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Fitzpatrick out, but Pickett has a chance to play against Titans

It's always difficult for teams who play in Thursday night games to get players back from injuries that occurred in their previous game on Sunday.

But that is the hope for the Steelers with quarterback Kenny Pickett as they prepare to host the Tennessee Titans Thursday night at Acrisure Stadium.

Pickett left Sunday's 20-10 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars late in the second quarter after being driven to the turf moments after he had released a pass by defensive lineman Adam Gotsis, suffering a rib injury.

Tomlin said there is a chance Pickett will be able to play for the Steelers (4-3) in what is now a key matchup against the Titans (3-4).

"I think the door is definitively ajar for Kenny, probably a game-time type decision based on the information that I'm holding here today with no structural damage and so forth to his ribs," Tomlin said Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. "So, we'll see how -- we'll go through the week. His ability to throw, his level of comfort, his effectiveness, et cetera, and let that be our guide in terms of determining his availability."

The same cannot be said of All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick left the game on Jacksonville's second offensive possession with a hamstring injury and did not return. He will not play Thursday night against the Jaguars.

"I don't have additional information in terms of time of that injury, but it's safe to say that he's not going to be able to be available to us on a short week," Tomlin said.

If Pickett is unable to play, veteran Mitch Trubisky would replace him against the Titans. The Steelers would go with a combination of veteran safeties Damontae Kazee, Keanu Neal and Miles Killebrew could be used to offset the loss of Fitzpatrick, who leads the Steelers with 54 tackles.

"Obviously the loss of Minkah is a significant one. It's a multi-man job, not a one-man job thankfully," Tomlin said. "We have some veterans back there, guys like Killebrew and Kazee and Keanu Neal who are veteran NFL players, and that lessens the impact hopefully, but obviously it's not a one-man job when you're talking about replacing Minkah, whether you're talking about his play making ability or his hub of communication ability."

For Pickett, the question will be how or what he's able to do in the Steelers' limited practice time this week leading up to Thursday's game.

Players were off on Monday, but the Steelers will hold their first full practice on Tuesday. Tomlin also said Wednesday's walk-through practice could be significant.

"Wednesday is going to be a really functional practice, and so he'll have an opportunity to display readiness at that time," Tomlin said.

Pickett completed 10 of 16 passes for 73 yards against the Jaguars. Trubisky finished 15 of 27 for 138 yards, one touchdown and two interception as the Steelers fell behind by two scores in the fourth quarter and were forced to throw the ball on every down.

"Largely, Mitch has done a really good job, and I'm talking about day-to-day, the things that come with being a backup quarterback in terms of being an asset to Kenny, being an idea guy, being a really good communicator, making sure quarterbacks and receivers are on the same page, et cetera, et cetera. He is highly professional and really good at those things," Tomlin said of Trubisky, the team's starter at the beginning of the 2022 season before ceding that spot to Pickett.

"(He) hasn't had a lot of opportunities to play, but when called upon, always is ready above the neck and competitive, and so just really comfortable with him. But we'll see where the week leads us in terms of him having a week of prep or a couple of days of prep on a short week and what that might mean in terms of quality of play. All of those things are up in the air, especially considering Kenny's availability is up in the air."

The Steelers are 11-8 in Pickett's 19 starts the past two seasons, including 10-5 in games in which he's started and finished the game.

He left a game earlier this season against the Texans with a knee injury -- later diagnosed as a bone bruise -- only to return to play the following week in a win over the Raiders.

No blame game: There were several calls in Sunday's loss that Tomlin deemed "debatable." But he wasn't interested in using that as an excuse for losing the game to the Jaguars.

"It is our desire to win definitively, where potentially controversial calls are less significant," Tomlin said. "That's what good teams do. That's what elite teams do. It's our desire to be a good and elite team so that we're not as flimsy and become a component of some debatable calls and things of that nature.

"I acknowledge there was some of that in the game, but it's some of that in most games, to be quite honest with you, things that are capable of being reviewed or assessed in that way. I like to focus my energies on the things that are within our control, the quality of our execution, and I think when you do that definitively, it makes those discussions less relevant."

That being said, as he did following Sunday's game, Tomlin pointed to some significant plays in the loss the Steelers did not do, such as not Pickett and wide receiver Diontae Johnson connecting on a pass down the middle of the field on the opening play of the game, an underthrow to an open George Pickens along the sidelines on their second possession, and a third-quarter miscommunication on defense that led to Jacksonville's lone touchdown on a 56-yard catch by running back Travis Etienne.

"We're going to continue to work and work to improve and make those plays with much more consistency and position our guys to be in more of those circumstances so that we can get the type of starts that we need for the games to unfold in a more fluid manner, more to our vision, if you will, as opposed to trying to close the distance in the second half," Tomlin said.

Heyward, McFarland getting closer: All-Pro defensive tackle Cam Heyward and running back Anthony McFarland both have had their 21-day window opened to resume practicing and Tomlin said both will be in consideration to return from the short-term injured reserve list this week.

"We've got some things to juggle from a personnel standpoint in terms of inclusion of who's going to be a component of the plan and available to us and beyond that how much they're going to be available to us is another component of the discussion, as well," Tomlin said. "But we'll get clarity in those areas as we push through the week and get close to the game time."

Both were placed on injured reserve following the team's Week 1 loss to the 49ers. McFarland, dealing with a knee injury, had his 21-day practice window opened Oct. 18. The Steelers opened the window for Heyward, who had surgery to repair a groin injury, Oct. 26.

If a player has his practice window opened but is not placed on the active roster after 21 days, he reverts to season-ending injured reserve.

Porter makes his case: Asked if rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. has done enough to hold onto a starting spot, Tomlin was definitive in his answer.

"He has," Tomlin said.

Porter, the 32nd pick in this year's draft and first selection of the second round, made his first career start against the Jaguars in place of an injured Levi Wallace (foot). He finished the game with five tackles.