PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers made the long-anticipated quarterback change Sunday, benching Mitch Trubisky at halftime in favor of rookie Kenny Pickett at Acrisure Stadium. The result was a 24-20 loss to the New York Jets and a huge quarterback dilemma for coach Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin was noncommittal on his Week 5 starter, creating the potential for a permanent switch to Pickett, who sparked the Steelers (1-3) in the third quarter before throwing two interceptions in the final 3 minutes, 34 seconds of the game.
"I'm not going to talk extended as we sit here," Tomlin said after his team blew a 20-10 lead in its second straight loss at home. "We did what we needed to do to put ourselves in position to win the game. We'll do it again. But I'd like to just keep it where we were in terms of what transpire here today. We'll deal with next week, next week."
Tomlin said he made the switch because "we needed a spark. We didn't do much in the first half, not enough offensively, and thought he could provide a spark for us."
The Steelers trailed 10-6 at the half. During halftime, Tomlin approached Trubisky in the locker room and, according to the veteran quarterback, said simply, "Eight's in."
The 66,578 in attendance roared when Pickett entered the game with 13:53 remaining in the third quarter. The Steelers moved the ball to the Jets' 49, but Pickett -- on his first NFL pass -- threw the first of three interceptions.
Pickett, who starred at Pitt and was drafted 20th overall, completed 10 of 13 passes for 120 yards. In other words, not a single pass touched the ground. He scored rushing touchdowns on the next two possessions, becoming the first Pittsburgh quarterback since Kordell Stewart in 2000 to have multiple rushing touchdowns in a game. Pickett is the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for multiple touchdowns in his career debut, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The stadium where he enjoyed so many big moments as a collegian was rocking as the Steelers roared to a 20-10 lead with 13:36 left in the fourth quarter. From there, they collapsed. Pickett played a big role in that, throwing an interception with 3:34 left on a deep ball to tight end Pat Freiermuth. Michael Carter II's pick at the Jets' 35 set up New York's game-winning drive.
"You can't throw an interception there at that point in the game," Pickett said. "Obviously, we were moving the ball well. You want to be aggressive, but at the same time, the clock was our friend there and we wanted to possess the ball. I can't make that mistake.
"It's something I need to learn from quickly and get it fixed for whenever my next opportunity comes," he said.
Tomlin said Pickett brought "some energy" to the offense. "We scored some touchdowns. But, obviously, we also turned the ball over."
Trubisky, who signed with the Steelers as a free agent on a two-year, $14.3 million contract, completed only seven of 13 attempts for 84 yards and an interception. In 14 quarters, he has led the Steelers to only four touchdowns.
Speaking at his locker, Trubisky appeared angry with the benching.
"It's a tough deal," he said. "It's definitely not what I wanted, not what I expected. But it's part of it." Asked if he expects to remain the starter, Trubisky replied, "Who knows?"
Trubisky said he hasn't been given any information about his status for next Sunday's game at the Buffalo Bills.
"Took some shots, didn't connect, didn't score enough points, got pulled at halftime," he said of his day. "That's how it goes. Just business as usual. [I'm] disappointed. Obviously, that's part of it."
For his part, Pickett said the right things. He said it was nice to hear the crowd support, but he lamented the turnovers and, of course, the defeat. He didn't want to make any predictions on next week's starter, but he sounded like he was lobbying for the job.
"I just play with an edge," he said. "I think that's something I want to bring to the table. I don't like to lose; it's not a good feeling. I don't want it to be a familiar feeling. I definitely want to get out there and get a victory and get us back on track. There's a little bit of an edge to me. I want that to rub off on everybody."