The Pittsburgh Steelers will look to find success after turning to Kenny Pickett, but there is a brutal task on the horizon for the rookie quarterback.
The Pittsburgh Steelers enter week five of the 2022 NFL season with a daunting task awaiting them… and I’m not just talking about the powerful Buffalo Bills (this week’s opponent and a team widely considered to be one of the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl). Pittsburgh shocked Cincinnati – last season’s AFC Champion – 23-20, in overtime in the season-opener. But the Steelers have since lost three straight games to fall to 1-3 overall and currently reside in the basement of the AFC North.
Per Steelers.com, over the last 20 years, just 21 teams have reached the playoffs after starting their season with a 1-3 record. However, three teams accomplished the feat last season, including the Steelers (along with New England and Philadelphia).
Need I remind you of last season’s slow start, and subsequent regrouping?
The Steelers went on the road in week one of the 2021 season and shocked the Bills, 23-16. Thanks in part to a huge Miles Killebrew blocked punt that was returned by Ulysees Gilbert III with just under 10 minutes to play. A home-opening, 26-17 loss to the Raiders followed, and guess what? T.J. Watt didn’t play in the second half due to an injured groin (he injured his pec late in game one this year) and missed the following week’s 24-10 home loss to the Bengals. Watt returned in week four, a 27-17 loss at Green Bay in a game much closer than the score may indicate.
After that three-game losing streak, the Steelers rallied to go unbeaten over the next five games to improve to 5-3-1 overall. They finished the season in the playoffs as a Wild Card after tabulating a 9-7-1 record.
Of course, fans of the Black & Gold are hoping for an instant replay of sorts this season.
Enter the daunting task. Last season, the Steelers had a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, who won his last game at then Heinz Field and then practically willed the team to the playoffs in his swan song. That five game unbeaten streak to get Pittsburgh back into the playoff race? It came against five teams (Denver, Seattle, at Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit) that all had losing records at the end of the season.
This week in Buffalo, Pittsburgh will trot out rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett to make his first career NFL start. T.J. Watt is still at least a couple of weeks away from returning from injury and the Steelers need him badly considering their 0-7 mark without him in his career. In addition, they face a “Murderer’s Row” of a schedule over the next four weeks (at Buffalo, Tampa Bay, at Miami, at Philadelphia), with those opponents currently sporting a combined 12-4 record.
However, the Steelers organization has fared well after three-game losing streaks and 1-3 starts on multiple occasions in the past, so anything is possible.
Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, Pittsburgh is 21-12 (.636, third-highest in the league) when entering a game with an in-season three-game losing streak. Under Mike Tomlin, the team has posted a 6-3 mark (.667, fourth-highest in the league since 2007) with those parameters.
As for 1-3 starts, Pittsburgh joins both the Eagles and Houston Texans as the only organizations to overcome that and reach the playoffs multiple times (twice each) in the last 20 years. Besides last season, the Steelers also overcame a 1-3 start in 2002 to make the playoffs. Quarterback Tommy Maddox came off the bench to replace an ineffective Kordell Stewart early that season and led the Steelers to a 10-5-1 record.
Now, cue the spooky “Twighlight Zone” music Yinzers…because it’s October, the month of Halloween.
Maddox wore No. 8, which also happens to be Pickett’s number. To further illustrate the coincidence, Stewart wore No. 10, which also happens to be worn by Trubisky.
There’s no denying the irony here, but things will have to turn around in a hurry for this squad to make a run in the loaded AFC North. Can Pittsburgh pull off a similar feat in 2022? After all, the Steelers hold the NFL’s best record in October since 1995 (74-30, .712).
The good news is that despite their current three-game losing skid, the Steelers still sit just one game out of first place in their division with 13 games to go.
Hmmm…13. What an appropriate number!