If you’re like Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, you probably wished for a certain and predictable 2022 NFL debut for rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett.
After the bye week seemed like the most logical choice coming into the season. If not then, at least Pickett would get a week’s worth of first-team reps to prepare for his inevitable elevation to the top of Pittsburgh’s quarterback depth chart.
But, despite how good we all think we are at predicting and analyzing everything related to the NFL in 2022—including the marriage woes of quarterback Tom Brady—sports still provides the greatest example of reality television. Why? Because just when you think you’ve seen everything, something new jumps out from around the corner to surprise you.
The latest sports surprise happened for me on Sunday afternoon as I prepared for the Steelers' sluggish offense to take the field for the first time in the second half of a snoozer of a Week 4 affair against the Jets at Acrisure Stadium.
I was watching the game with my uncle who, while seeing the Steelers’ offense sleepwalk through another first half, said, “I guess we knew this era of football would arrive eventually.”
We did know that, even if the era of below-the-line offensive production seemed to arrive a few years earlier, thanks to Father Time chasing down Ben Roethlisberger faster than any defensive lineman ever could.
I remember where I was when the Steelers picked Roethlisberger in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft: Work. I remember where I was when Pittsburgh selected Pickett in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft: Industry, a bar in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
I remember who I was with when Roethlisberger made his professional football debut as a mid-game replacement in a Week 2 matchup vs. the Ravens in 2004: My uncle.
I guess it was fitting that I was with my uncle again on Sunday when Pickett came sauntering out with the rest of the offense for the Steelers first offensive possession of the second half.
It’s true that Pickett has confidence and swagger, but the way he looked as he wandered out onto the field, he kind of reminded me of Dr. Sam Beckett (Quantum Leap, 1989-1993) or Dr. Ben Song (the reboot, 2022-) as he leaped into someone else’s body from the past and may have felt in over his head.
Oh boy, indeed.
I sure didn’t expect it. In fact, I jumped up and cheered in a “Holy bleep! It’s happening now!?!?” kind of way.
It may have been the first time I jumped up and celebrated anything about the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Will I remember Pickett’s debut 18 years from now, like I do Roethlisberger’s—even if the latter’s wasn’t as shocking since we could all see him preparing to enter the Baltimore game to take the place of an injured Tommy Maddox?
I guess it all depends on how Pickett responds to being “the man,” the guy who, if he is indeed the real deal, can change the fortunes of the Steelers franchise much faster than most currently believe is possible.
Despite everything that is going on with the struggling and 1-3 Steelers in 2022, Pickett’s arrival on the scene sure is exciting. He did look the part against the Jets as he helped to lift Pittsburgh’s offense up and make it look functional and competitive for perhaps the first time this season, despite the depressing loss at the end.
Speaking of which...
Will Pickett’s presence make much of a difference over the final 13 games, beginning with his first career start on the road against the heavily-favored Bills on Sunday?
That remains to be seen, but if the Steelers are simply looking better by the end of the season than they do right now—and that’s largely attributed to the presence and rapid development of Kenny Pickett—it could be an indicator that great days are just over the horizon for the organization and its fans.