Tomlin got what he wanted, even if it did nothing to advance the process of making a decision, because against the Seahawks, Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph, and Kenny Pickett all played well. Not perfect, but there were no turnovers, no delay of game penalties, no burned timeouts. Each of them threw at least one touchdown pass, each of them finished with a passer rating in the triple digits, and Rudolph and Pickett each directed more than one scoring drive. And of course, Pickett, the No. 1 pick and the darling of the fan base, put the cherry on top by leading the five-play, 43-yard drive that he capped with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Vaughns with three seconds left to provide the deciding points.
“You know, he moved his group,” said Tomlin in the immediate aftermath when asked to evaluate Pickett. “He played situational football. He displayed a competitive spirit. A lot of good things to build on from a first performance standpoint.
“I could say the same thing about all three (quarterbacks), to be honest with you. They moved their units. They did the informal things associated with the position from a leadership and communication standpoint. They were engaged. It was a good first time out for all three. Obviously we’ll comb through it tomorrow and evaluate it in that way.”
Tomlin and his staff’s evaluation eventually will focus on a defense that allowed 159 yards rushing via a 6.1 average per carry, plus had a couple of journeyman quarterbacks in Geno Smith and Drew Lock combine to complete 70 percent of their passes to a group of 13 different receivers, six of whom had at least one catch of 15-or-more yards. The Steelers had leads of 14-0 and 17-3 in the first half only to find themselves in a 25-25 tie with 13:32 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The fact that Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alex Highsmith, Larry Ogunjobi, TJ Watt, Tyson Alualu, and Cam Heyward were held out of the game won’t matter to Tomlin, but it still matters when putting the defense’s performance into perspective. Certainly, more can be expected of that group once those aforementioned players put their hands back in that pile.
But what Trubisky, Rudolph, and Pickett did was unusual in that it’s not often three quarterbacks on one team all post pass ratings over 100, while each man also did something special in terms of playing the position at the NFL level.
Trubisky took his group down the field on the game’s opening possession – 75 yards in seven plays – and the ball ended up in the end zone based on his 13-yard pass to Gunner Olszewski. Rudolph also directed a touchdown drive in his first series, this one covered 23 yards in three plays and ended with a 26-yard pass to George Pickens, and the next time the offense took the field, it marched 83 yards in 17 plays to tack we have a field goal. And then Pickett lived the fantasy.
It was made possible by a strip/sack by rookie inside linebacker Mark Robinson on Drew Lock, and when Tuzar Skipper came up with the loose ball at the Seattle 43-yard line, the Steelers offense got a chance to win the game.
Pickett scrambled for 4 yards on first down. Mataeo Durant ran for 5 to set up a third-and-1. Pickett then completed a pass to Cody White for 2 yards and a fresh set of downs with 33 seconds left. Pickett again scrambled, this time for 8 yards, and then on the next play he got the ball into the right flat to Vaughns, who broke a tackle by Josh Valentine-Turner and sprinted toward the end zone and dove across the goal line for the decisive touchdown.
“I liked the matchup, I liked the look we had, just free access,” said Pickett about the final play, after which he was roughed by defensive lineman Myles Adams. “I was just thinking, get [Tyler Vaughns] the ball, and we’ll get out of bounds and let [Nick Sciba] put it up for the win. But Tyler is a great player. I gave him a chance, and he made a move and scored.”
And now it’s back to Saint Vincent College, back to the drawing board. Time to try something else, because the preseason opener didn’t do much of anything to separate these quarterbacks.