Before Week 1, there was a report that Mike Tomlin didn't want to start rookie first-round quarterback Kenny Pickett all season.
Tomlin is probably glad he didn't stick to that.
The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't going anywhere this season, but they're learning a lot about their rookie quarterback. Pickett had another solid game on Monday night in a 24-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts. The Steelers defense came up with a big fourth-down stop after some poor game management by Colts interim coach Jeff Saturday, knocking down a pass to Parris Campbell in the final minute. The Colts wanted a penalty but none was called. That clinched the win.
Pickett wasn't the biggest reason for the win, but he played well with 174 yards and, perhaps most importantly, no interceptions. Pickett was the only quarterback drafted in the first two rounds of this year's draft, and he wasn't viewed as a high-upside prospect. But the Steelers, who got to see Pickett play at the University of Pittsburgh, were excited to draft him. Pickett is still not to the point in which the Steelers can be certain he'll be their starter for the next decade. He's not lighting up the NFL like a few rookies who were immediate stars. But the Steelers have to be pretty happy with the strides he's making. Each week, he looks more comfortable and like a long-term NFL starter.
That wouldn't be happening if Pickett was on the bench all season.
Colts struggle in the first half
Matt Ryan's night started terribly. His first pass should have been intercepted. His second pass was intercepted. The third time he dropped back, he was indecisive on a third-down sack.
The Colts didn't get their first first down of the game until about midway through the second quarter. At that point, Ryan had zero completions. He finally completed a screen pass to Jonathan Taylor with about seven minutes left in the first half. The Colts trailed 13-0 at that point.
Ryan was benched earlier this season, a first for him, and Monday night might have been a lower moment than that. With 56 seconds left in the first half, the Colts trailed 16-3. Ryan was 2-of-9 for 19 yards. He had a 0.0 passer rating. The first half ended with a Colts field goal attempt being blocked.
Pickett played very well in the first half. He completed 14-of-18 passes for 133 yards. He is improving rapidly, giving the Steelers a lot of hope going forward. At halftime, it looked like the Steelers were on their way to a pretty easy win.
Then, without any warning, the Colts looked like a different team after halftime.
Colts, Steelers trade the lead
Indianapolis got a spark after halftime with an 89-yard kickoff return from rookie Dallis Flowers. That set up a 19-yard scoring drive, capped by a Jonathan Taylor touchdown run.
The Colts had played terribly for the first half but were trailing just 16-10. They seemed energized. The defense started figuring out the Steelers. The Steelers lost running back Najee Harris to an abdominal injury and that affected them. The Colts' offense had a horrendous turnover when Ryan and Taylor had a botched handoff at the 1-yard line that was fumbled and recovered by the Steelers. But after that, the Colts rebounded right away with a stop on defense and a touchdown drive to take a 17-16 lead.
The Steelers came back. They went on a long drive and Benny Snell scored on third-and-goal. George Pickens got a two-point conversion and the Steelers had the 24-17 lead. Pickett completed some key passes on that drive, most notably a 17-yard gain to Pat Freiermuth on a third-and-8.
Indianapolis had a chance to tie the game in the final two minutes. They got into Steelers territory. After the two-minute warning they had fourth-and-3 at the Steelers' 37-yard line. Ryan barely got the ball to Michael Pittman Jr. for a first down. Ryan was sacked on the next play, but then had a surprising 14-yard run on third-and-17. He dove when he didn't have to, giving himself up, and that looked bad when Taylor was stopped for no gain on third down. It wasn't a great moment for Saturday letting the clock run, despite having all three timeouts, after Ryan's run. Indianapolis needed to regroup, and they didn't have enough time to use all the timeouts to get the ball back anyway. The Steelers knocked down Ryan's fourth-down pass and they had the win.
The Steelers aren't going to the playoffs at 4-7, but they're seeing Pickett play pretty well. That's great news in a rare down season.