Miami kicker Jason Sanders’ 50-yard field goal sailed through the uprights to essentially end the Pittsburgh Steelers’ season from halfway across the country. But that doesn’t mean Sunday was worthless.
With a 28-14 win over the Cleveland Browns, who weren’t shy in voicing their intent to “end” the Steelers season themselves throughout the week, Pickett capped the season on a 7-2 stretch and yet another win over the Browns.
The playoffs may not be in the cards this winter, but the progress made by Pickett was evident in every game he started this season.
That KP ➡️ GP connection 🔥
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 8, 2023
Pickett wasn’t helped by drops Sunday against the Browns, but he completed 13-of-29 pass attempts for 195 yards and a touchdown. He led three touchdown drives and two more that ended in field goals — and one that ended on the Browns’ 1-yard line on a drive on which Najee Harris appeared to have scored.
The Steelers needed a win to preserve playoff chances, and Pickett delivered. The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets also needed to win. The Bills pulled through, and the Jets didn’t.
One-time Pitt quarterback Joe Flacco wasn’t able to pull through for Pittsburgh.
But at the end of the day, that isn’t what’s important. What actually is, is Pickett’s continued progression. Pickett fulfilled his end of the bargain.
Pickett was able to pull through for the Steelers over the course of the season. He set history as the only rookie quarterback in NFL history to lead his squad to back-to-back game-winning drives in the final minute of the fourth quarter — knocking off the Las Vegas Raiders and Baltimore Ravens.
With Pickett in the starting lineup, the Steelers went 7-5 — including three in a row to end the season. And in the nine weeks following the bye week, the Steelers put together a 7-2 record.
Of course, the quality of competition dropped down the stretch, but Pickett won key divisional games — at home and on the road — and his poise and ability to run the offense steadily grew. He’s most dangerous when he’s creating outside the pocket, but the growth in the pocket was noticeable.
After a three-interception showing in his debut, with all three picks of questionable origin, and a start in which he threw two touchdowns to eight interceptions over his first five games, he evened out. In his final eight — seven and a quarter since he was knocked out of the Ravens game in Week 14 — games, he threw five touchdowns to just one interception.
Pickett completed 245-of-389 pass attempts for 2,404 yards with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions in 12 games — 11 starts. He also added 237 yards and three touchdowns on 55 carries.
Pickett will now enter his first NFL offseason as the Steelers’ unquestioned starter, building further rapport with Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson, George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth — and whoever the Steelers may add in the offseason.
There are plenty of areas where Pickett still needs to improve as an NFL quarterback, but that also comes with time. He needs continued reps, continued teaching and continued opportunities to grow. Pickett proved he belongs in the NFL.
The next step is proving that he’s able to continue his growth — and continue to grow into an NFL quarterback that leads the Steelers to the playoffs.