Mitchell Trubisky started for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their preseason opener and didn’t do anything to lose ground in the quarterback competition. But Mason Rudolph and Kenny Pickett aren’t going away.
All three Steelers quarterbacks looked pretty good on Saturday night. Pickett, a first-round pick, took his first snaps in the NFL and excited the crowd. He threw the game-winning touchdown with three seconds left, and Pittsburgh won 32-25. Maybe it says something about the Seattle Seahawks defense that all three Steelers quarterbacks played well, but it’s still a good sign for a Steelers team trying to replace Ben Roethlisberger.
Trubisky looked confident from the start of the game. On the first drive Trubisky led a touchdown drive. On the scoring play Trubisky started to scramble, then saw there was a blown coverage on wide-open Gunner Olszewski and hit him for a 13-yard touchdown. It was a strong, efficient first drive.
Trubisky started the second drive with a pretty throw to tight end Connor Heyward over the middle, just past the reach of the defender. Trubisky showed his athleticism later in the drive, wiggling out of a sure sack by Seahawks end Darrell Taylor and scrambling for a few yards. Trubisky played two series and was 4-of-7 for 63 yards.
Rudolph came in after Trubisky — Pickett playing third tells you how far he is from winning the starting job — and threw a nice deep touchdown pass to George Pickens, a second-round rookie who is generating a ton of buzz with a great camp, in the corner of the end zone.
Rudolph finished 9-of-15 for 93 yards, and Pickett started the second half. Pickett, who played at the University of Pittsburgh, came in to a big cheer from Steelers fans. He hit a bootleg pass for 11 yards on his first play. He finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to running back Jaylen Warren and a two-point conversion pass. Fans chanted his name. Pickett completed his first 10 passes, though most of them were short, low-risk throws. Then when the Steelers got the ball back late in a tie game, Pickett led a game-winning drive, throwing a 24-yard score to Tyler Vaughns, who spun away from a tackle attempt and scored, with three seconds left. Pickett finished 13-of-15 for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Quite a debut.
For the moment, Trubisky is the favorite to start Week 1. But the competition isn’t over.
Spotlight team: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have a quarterback competition too, so Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh was the biggest on the preseason schedule.
Geno Smith played fairly well when Russell Wilson was hurt last season, has been the starter through the offseason even though Seattle traded for Drew Lock and he started against the Steelers. Smith didn’t make a lot happen but he was fine. Smith finished 10-of-15 for 101 yards before taking a seat at halftime. Drew Lock got the second half and his performance will keep the quarterback competition alive. Lock was 11-of-15, 102 yards and two touchdowns. He looked pretty good and might have cut the gap with Smith.
Not much else went right for the Seahawks. They trailed 14-0 early. A blown coverage led to Pittsburgh’s first touchdown. A long punt return set up the Steelers’ second touchdown. Tackling was a big problem for the Seahawks. Seattle’s offense wasn’t bad but it had three punts and a field goal through four drives. Smith ran in for a touchdown with 21 seconds left in the half to end his night on a positive note. Lock did have some success against Steelers backups, which was good, though he fumbled late when he didn’t see blindside pressure and was sacked. That led to the Steelers’ game-winning touchdown.
Seattle is likely to struggle this season. That’s what usually happens when you trade an elite quarterback like Wilson. Saturday night didn’t provide much optimism that the Seahawks will be better than expected this season.
Standout player: Washington QB Sam Howell
Commanders quarterback Sam Howell, a rookie fifth-round pick, made some things happen. It’s just one preseason game, but Washington fans have to wonder if they got a nice value pick in the draft.
Howell was 9-of-16 for 143 yards passing and had two rushing touchdowns as well. One was a nice scramble up the middle.
The Panthers won 23-21 on a last-minute field goal but Howell did his best to lead the Commanders to a lead after they trailed. Howell was once considered a first-round prospect before his stock plummeted, and he looked pretty good in his NFL preseason debut.
Carson Wentz is the starter for Washington. The Commanders gave up a lot to get him. But Wentz couldn’t succeed in Indianapolis last season and he’s no sure thing to play well in Washington either. Howell is worth keeping an eye on the rest of the preseason, even if it might take some time for him to get a chance to play in the regular season.
Chicago Bears 19, Kansas City Chiefs 14: Bears quarterback Justin Fields had some nice passes, particularly a fun one to Darnell Mooney, who made a nice leaping catch for 26 yards.
But Fields was also under a lot of pressure, which reinforces that the Bears’ offensive line could be a problem all season.
Buffalo Bills 27, Indianapolis Colts 24: The Bills didn’t play any starters, but the Colts did. The Colts had their starters in all the way through the first quarter and into the second, and new quarterback Matt Ryan threw 10 passes. He completed six for 58 yards, an unremarkable Colts preseason debut. He did complete a couple passes for 30 yards to his new No. 1 receiver Michael Pittman, but no other receiver stood out. The Bills came back to win their ninth straight preseason game, kicking the game-winning field goal on the final play.
Miami Dolphins 26, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24: The Dolphins sat out many starters and the Buccaneers held out just about everyone who might play in Week 1. This is what preseason football looks like:
Second-year Buccaneers quarterback Kyle Trask got a long look. After Blaine Gabbert was pretty good (5-of-5 for 56 yards and nicely thrown touchdown), Trask was up and down to start but settled in well. Trask threw an interception that landed on the defender’s legs before it hit the ground, but it shouldn’t have been thrown in the first place as he was under pressure. He did have a touchdown drive in which he completed five of six passes for 56 yards. Trask led a nice drive for a game-winning field goal attempt at the end, but the kick hit the upright. Trask finished 25-of-33 for 258 yards.
Houston Texans 17, New Orleans Saints 13: Andy Dalton got the start for injured Jameis Winston, and showed why he’ll be one of the league’s top backups for a while. He went 5-of-5 for 51 yards and a touchdown to running back Dwayne Washington. If Winston has to miss any time during the regular season, Dalton can step right in and keep the offense running.
Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos: These two teams had a joint practice this week in Denver, so both coaches sat practically every starter. Josh Johnson started at quarterback for the Broncos and threw two touchdowns to give Denver an early lead. He finished with 172 yards and two touchdowns.
Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Chargers: Neither team played its starters. The Rams started the trend of sitting starters through the preseason under Sean McVay, and Chargers coach and former McVay assistant Brandon Staley has followed that path.
• Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson had a breakdown of Carolina Panthers QB Baker Mayfield’s start on Saturday. Mayfield had a solid outing in limited playing time, completing 4-of-7 passes for 45 yards.
• The Chiefs should be excited about rookie defensive end George Karlaftis. A first-round pick out of Purdue, Karlaftis got consistent pressure on the quarterback. Part of that is playing against the Chicago Bears’ bad offensive line, but he had a sack and two quarterback hits. He’ll be a big part of Kansas City’s defense.
• The Bears also got a promising game from a rookie defender. Safety Jaquan Brisker was all over the field. He had four tackles, a pass defensed and a tackle for loss. The Bears might have nailed that pick.
• Colts backup quarterback Nick Foles had some rough moments. He never saw pressure coming from his front side and was sacked, losing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. He also threw a pass that was well over his receiver’s head and picked off by the Bills. Bills QB Case Keenum, who started as Josh Allen sat out, wasn’t much better with a pair of interceptions.
• Washington rookie running back Bryan Robinson looked good, picking up 26 yards and a touchdown on six carries. He could cut into Antonio Gibson’s early-down work if he continues to impress.
• Steelers rookie receiver George Pickens has done nothing but impress. He slipped in the draft due to a knee injury at Georgia but he already looks like he belongs in the NFL. The Steelers are going to have to find ways to get him involved early in the season.
And as a bonus, check out Pickens pancake a cornerback (at the bottom of the screen):
• Texans rookie running back Dameon Pierce is an interesting player. He’s a fourth-round pick on a team that needs young talent to emerge, and a fairly clear path to winning a starting job. His first run of the preseason went for 20 yards, and it was impressive. Pierce had 49 yards on five carries.
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