Pickett concerned with winning a game, not Brady

Last week, Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett made his first career start in Buffalo against the Bills and quarterback Josh Allen, considered by many to be one of the top two or three players at the position in the NFL.

This week, Pickett faces an entirely different task when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit Acrisure Stadium Sunday – facing a living legend in quarterback Tom Brady.

Pickett was just three years old when the 45-year-old Brady made his first career start for the New England Patriots in 2001.

So, he's spent his entire life watching Brady.

"As long as I can remember. Growing up, since I first started playing football," Pickett said Wednesday at the UPMC-Rooney Sports Complex.

"I played with him on Madden. What was his first year? I was born in '98. 2000? So I was pretty young. As long as I can remember, I remember him in the NFL. He's a legend of the game. (I have) nothing but respect. This will be a good opportunity for us on Sunday."

Obviously, Pickett and Brady never take the field together at the same time, but given the nature of the quarterback position, many view the meetings as a matchup between the two positions. But the young quarterback won't be star struck.

Pickett knows he faces a tough battle regardless of who the quarterback is on the other sideline given Tampa Bay's defense. The Bucs are sixth in the NFL in total and scoring defense, allowing 309 yards and 16.6 points per game.

"It's another great opportunity, but I'm going against the defense," Pickett said. "Our defense will handle business on that side. I've got to worry about our job on the offensive side. We've got to put up points against a great defense."

Brady is 23-5 in his career when the opposing team starts a rookie quarterback, including having won his past 12 matchups. But one of those defeats came in Week 8 of 2004 when the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger knocked off Brady and the then-unbeaten Patriots in Pittsburgh.

Pickett also threw for 327 yards in his first career start last Sunday in a loss to the Bills, the most by a Steelers' rookie in team history.

But the Steelers failed to score a touchdown, going 0-4 in the red zone. Fixing that is job No. 1 this week.

"I like the efficiency moving up and down the field, and then we would hit the 20 and didn't get in the end zone," Pickett said. "We looked at it. We're definitely going to tweak some things to get guys some opportunities. We have to execute and come out with touchdowns.

"There were a couple that we were a couple of inches away. A foot being in bounds versus out of bounds, I've got to give better balls there. Those guys will come down with them. And I think we've got to be more aggressive in certain areas and mix it up. We'll do that and we'll get in the end zone."

If Pickett throws for 300 or more yards again Sunday, he would become just the fourth player in the Super Bowl era to throw for 300 yards in his first two starts, joining Cam Newton (2011), Kyler Murray (2019) and Justin Herbert (2020) to do so.

He has the talent and the receiving group with which to do it.

And Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin liked what he saw of his young quarterback in his first career start.

"I thought he was competitive," Tomlin said. "I thought he communicated well. I thought he made good and timely decisions. Nothing disappointing in terms of what we saw from him, we just need more of it. We've got to get better. We have to get collectively better, and he's a component of that."

Sunday's game will mark the first time Pickett will start a game at Acrisure Stadium since his days at Pitt. He ran out of the tunnel as the starter for the Panthers many times. This will be his first time doing so with the Steelers.

"That has not crossed my mind," Pickett said. "That's going to be a great moment, but it's going to be short-lived."

And none of it matters if the Steelers don't turn things around and win.

Getting his first win would be the best memory.

"The standard has to be raised. We've got to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and it starts in practice. We need better practice habits and that will translate over to the games," Pickett said.

"The only thing that's going to fix this is winning. There's not a pep talk. No great speech is going to turn this around. We've got to go produce on Sunday. We've got to go do it as players, as men."

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