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Kenny Pickett Faces Familiar Challenge as Big Underdog in First Start

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Steelers QB Kenny Pickett vs Mia,mi

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett will make his first NFL start on Sunday as a historic two-touchdown underdog to the Buffalo Bills.

It’s not the first time that Pickett will come into a new job with a big ask in his first week. When Pickett made his first start with the Pitt Panthers in 2017, it came as Pitt hosted No. 2 Miami at Heinz Field.

Pickett led Pitt to a historic upset of the Hurricanes that Saturday, and while there aren’t necessarily a ton of similarities between the specific job that Pickett will be asked to do this Sunday in Buffalo and the one he did five years ago in Pittsburgh, that experience and the others gleaned from his five-year run as the head of the Panthers will help immensely.

“It’s the attitude that you go about it,” Pickett said Wednesday. “We know how great we can be when we’re detailed and execute at a high level. That’s something that we need to take care of during the week or we don’t have a shot.

“It’ the details, it’s the little things, guys running the right depth, I’ve got to be on time, give a great ball. The line has to protect. They’ve been doing an unbelievable job all year, so I have a ton of confidence in those guys. So it’s really everyone doing 1 of 11 and we’ll be OK.”

Against Miami, Pickett was inserted at the end of a hopeless 2017 season. The only thing left to play for was building for the future and upsetting the Hurricanes’ season.

In 2022, the Steelers turn to pick just four games into the season. While the Steelers are big underdogs this week and face the most daunting part of their schedule over the next four weeks, they still have a present to play for, and not just a future.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said on Sunday that he inserted Pickett into the game against the New York Jets because he was looking for a “spark” for the offense. Tomlin said he delivered that, and that energy is something that can be repeated game-in and game-out.

“I think he provided a spark in game that is tangible, that we saw and could feel and appreciate,” Tomlin said. “But I think it goes beyond that. I think that he’s kind of provided that spark since we’ve been stepping in stadiums. It’s just a component of who he is as a player and a quarterback, the things that he does, how he communicates, his competitive spirit. I think it’s a positive catalyst for us.”

Pickett said that he’s not trying to do anything other than be himself in order to provide Tomlin that spark that he’s looking for, but that his experience as a leader — gained since that game against Miami five years ago — has him alert as to how he can be a positive influence in that area.

“I don’t like to get too high or get too low,” Pickett said. “I showed some emotion out there on Sunday. I felt like we needed it. So it’s really reading the room, read the situation and fit the kind of leadership style that needs to be fit. That’s what I’ll take from it and be myself on Sunday.”

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