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Mike Tomlin Gives Impassioned Defense of Kenny Pickett



Steelers QB Kenny Pickett
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 2, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — The enigma of Kenny Pickett is something. No, it’s not on tape. Well, I guess the intangible part can never be on tape. But the fascinating dichotomy from the first three-quarters of Pickett to ‘fourth quarter Kenny’ is a fascinating phenomenon. Because in reality, what is the explanation for it other than Pickett rises to challenges, or in the other case, it’s just completely random?

But it doesn’t seem so random when this happened back to last year. It’s an over 20-game sample size. At some point, that’s not just a small sample size, and it starts to become something Pickett is doing right.

In the fourth quarter this year, Pickett completed 72.7% of his passes with a 108.2 passer rating, but outside of the quarter, those numbers plummeted to 58.6% with a 75.3 passer rating in quarters one through three this season. The question the Steelers have to answer is why Pickett can suddenly find this magical level of play in the fourth quarter while, at times, sinking them earlier in games. It creates games that end up needlessly.

Mike Tomlin went to bat for his quarterback in that unique circumstance on Tuesday, loving that Pickett rises up into those crucial moments while declaring that there has to be improvement from other areas of his game to round out his performances overall.

“What is his rating in the fourth quarter?” Tomlin said. “Well, just ask it from that perspective. He’s awesome in the fourth quarter. Man, he rises up in those moments. He wants to be the reason why we’re successful. He prepares his tail off. In some instances, when people run from challenges, he runs to challenges. So, that’s why his performance is so good in the fourth. Those other quarters we’ll work on.”

At some point, Pickett has to turn that production into something. He will not live off fourth-quarter magic every week, and Pittsburgh will not reach higher levels until he can put it all together. It’s a credit to Pickett that he can rise, but if he could be the guy in the fourth quarter for the entire game, Pittsburgh would feel great about what they have at quarterback. It’s about finding out how to draw that guy out consistently and not just when the game is on the line.