PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers have ruled starting quarterback Kenny Pickett out of the team’s Week 16 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the club announced on Thursday.
Mason Rudolph will make his first start of the season and first start for 2021. He has been elevated to be Pickett’s primary backup after Mitch Trubisky had filled the role for the first 15 weeks of the season.
Pickett is just two weeks out from having surgery to repair a right high ankle sprain. He had been limited in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday. Head coach Mike Tomlin said on Wednesday that Thursday would be a “big day” with regard to Pickett’s availability.
Apparently, he was not able to do enough to play. Pickett will not be dressed, even as an a emergency backup. On Monday, Tomlin said the criteria for Pickett playing would be medical clearance and that he would have to demonstrate an ability to be able to move well enough to protect himself from further injury.
Rudolph was the Steelers’ backup from 2019-21, and he played in 18 games and made 10 starts over that time in that role. When the Steelers signed Trubisky and drafted Pickett in 2022, they entered a three-way battle and Trubisky emerged as the starter, with Pickett the backup and Rudolph the third-stringer.
When Pickett took over the starting role in Week 4 of 2022, Trubisky remained the backup and Rudolph the No. 3. Rudolph became a free agent last offseason, but chose to re-sign with the Steelers on a one-year deal to return as the third-string quarterback.
The Steelers are still hopeful that Pickett will be able to return this season, though if they want that return to be in a meaningful football game, they will likely need to get a win with Rudolph on Saturday.
Thought the Steelers will not be technically eliminated with a loss, they are already significant long shots to make the postseason.