news pickett sparks steelers in second half but wilson rallies jets to 24 20 win
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Pickett sparks Steelers in second half, but Wilson rallies Jets to 24-20 win

New York Jets
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The long-awaited Kenny Pickett Era officially began in Pittsburgh Sunday, but New York quarterback Zach Wilson and the Jets spoiled the party with a late touchdown and a 24-20 win.

Pickett, the 20th overall pick and hometown Heisman contender, heard his number called in the second half — to a thunderous ovation — at Acrisure Stadium.

Playing on the same field he had for the last four years, the former Pittsburgh Panther led the Steelers (1-3) on a pair of scoring drives (part of 20 unanswered points) after the team fell behind 10-0 early on. Starter Mitch Trubisky completed just 7 of his 13 passes for 84 yards and an interception in the first half before getting replaced after halftime.

Pickett’s presence alone injected life into the Steeler fanbase, who had been chanting the rookie’s name louder and louder each week as Trubisky struggled.

“I just thought we needed a spark, man,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin of the decision. “We didn’t do much in the first half, not enough offensively, and I thought [Pickett] could provide a spark for us.”

The fans finally got their wish, and Pickett delivered, showing flashes of the future and rushing for his first two career touchdowns to ignite the crowd and the sideline. The second of which gave Pittsburgh a 10-point advantage with 13:36 to play, as he became the first and only NFL rookie quarterback to score two rushing touchdowns in his first contest.

But Wilson, who was making his season debut, quickly reminded folks why he was the No. 2 overall pick a season ago.

Returning from a preseason injury, Wilson led the Jets (2-2) on two late touchdown marches of his own, including the game-winning, 10-play, 65-yard drive, as rookie running back Breece Hall scored the go-ahead touchdown in the closing seconds.

“It’s a fine line in this business between winning and losing,” said Tomlin.

Pickett was intercepted in between New York’s final two drives — one of three for him on the day — with 3:34 to go, as he admitted that he tried to force a throw to tight end Pat Freiermuth that got tipped and picked off.

“I didn’t put it high enough,” said Pickett. “I cannot throw an interception there at that point in the game. Obviously we were moving the ball well and wanted to be aggressive, but at the same time, the clock was our friend there and I wanted to possess the ball and not do that and give [the Jets] good field position, so I can’t make that mistake.”

Pickett finished the game completing 10 of 13 for 120 yards, while rushing six times for 15 yards and the two scores. The experience had to be bittersweet, but Pickett was solid despite the mistakes and made a good argument for why he should remain the starter going forward — and the entire organization should be encouraged by what they saw.

“I thought he did some good things,” Tomlin said of Pickett’s performance, adding that he’ll worry about next week’s starter in the coming days. “There was some energy there, we scored some touchdowns, but obviously we also turned the ball over.”

After the slow start, Chris Boswell booted a pair of second-quarter field goals — including a stadium-record 59-yarder on the final play of the first half — to pull Pittsburgh within 10-6 at halftime.

Just as the Steeler defense forced a Jets three-and-out to start the third quarter, Pickett was inserted with 13:53 to play. After handing off to Najee Harris on his first three career snaps, Pickett snuck it across himself for a first down on a risky fourth-and-1 conversion from the Steelers’ own 32-yard line, and the crowd went nuts.

Two plays later, Pickett’s first career pass attempt was intercepted at the 11-yard line after a play-action rollout pass deep to Chase Claypool.

Pittsburgh safety Minkah Fitzpatrick got the ball right back a few plays later, appearing to complete a pick-six touchdown along the sideline, but replay showed that he stepped out of bounds at the Jets’ 4-yard line.

Pickett’s first touchdown, on another QB sneak from a yard out, gave the Steelers their first lead of the game with 7:18 left in the third quarter.

“The only thing I’m thinking about is winning out there,” Pickett said of his emotions when he had the stadium rocking, “so I was just staying in tune with the game and what we needed to do to come out with the win and that didn’t happen, so it’s something that I definitely have to learn from quickly and get it fixed for whenever my next opportunity may come.”

The Steeler defense limited the young, talented duo of Michael Carter and Hall to just 98 rushing yards on the day, and forced a New York punt to set up Pickett’s second score on the following drive, and things were looking good for the home fans.

But Wilson and the Jets answered with an 11-play, 81-yard scoring drive that culminated with a 5-yard TD toss to Corey Davis, trimming the Steelers’ lead to 20-17 with 7:31 to go.

As the clock approached the five-minute mark, Pickett hooked up with fellow rookie George Pickens on a 26-yard pass on a crucial third-and-3 to the New York 31-yard line, just before Pickett’s interception two plays later that led to the game-winning score.

Pickens also had a bit of a coming-out party of his own Sunday, hauling in a team-high 102 yards on just six grabs (eight targets) after recording just 65 yards on five catches coming in.

The first-year wideout hinted that the team was prepared for the quarterback change, and the Pickett-to-Pickens connection could certainly be something Steeler fans can get used to seeing for years to come.

“I feel like the whole crowd was cheering him on,” Pickens said of Pickett. “We were already ready to go. It’s just next man up. We were already ready, though.”

Diontae Johnson, who had just two catches for 11 yards, added: “When [Pickett] came in, we were just more efficient. You could see the energy. He played with swag. That makes us want to play for him. We have to get him better, and prepare for next week.”

Freiermuth added 85 yards on seven receptions, while Harris rushed for a season-best 74 yards on 18 carries in the losing effort.

Things certainly don’t get any easier for the Steelers, who will travel to face the 3-1 Bills next Sunday, but at least the franchise might have found a permanent answer for its most important position.

Injury Report

  • S Terrell Edmunds suffered a tough hit in the first half and left the game. He’s in the concussion protocol and will be monitored throughout the week.
  • Both Fitzpatrick and DT Cam Heyward went down with injuries in the final two minutes of the game, forcing the Steelers to burn two of their three critical second-half timeouts in the process. Heyward, who was also x-rayed at halftime, is dealing with both an ankle and an elbow issue. Fitzpatrick (knee) could also be listed as questionable for Buffalo.
  • CB Cam Sutton, whose interception of a Wilson pass late in the first half killed a Jets scoring threat, is reportedly being evaluated for a hamstring injury.

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe has worked as a freelance writer for several publications over the past decade-plus, with a concentration on local and college sports. He is also a writer and editor for his father’s website, JerryRatcliffe.com, dedicated to the coverage of University of Virginia athletics.