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Steelers QB Pickett denies speculation he told coaching staff he wouldn't be No. 2 behind Rudolph

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett, left, and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow watch warmups together before the start of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett says the coaching staff felt he wasn't ready to play against Seattle, which is why he was inactive during Pittsburgh's 30-23 win over the Seahawks.

The second-year pro, who had right ankle surgery a month ago, denied online speculation that he told the coaching staff he didn't want to suit up as a backup behind Mason Rudolph.

“There was no talk of me being a backup quarterback this week in terms of being a two,” Pickett said Tuesday. “If I was healthy enough to play and the trainers and coaches felt like I looked good enough to play, I was going to start and play, if they believed that I was not, which they believed I was not, was not going to dress and suit up for the game.”

Coach Mike Tomlin said on Monday that Pickett had been cleared by the medical staff to play but opted to make Pickett inactive because of his lack of reps during practice. Pickett was listed as “questionable” going into the game, but watched from the sideline in sweats while Rudolph guided an offense that piled up 468 yards.

Tomlin opted to stick with Rudolph ahead of a trip to Baltimore on Saturday, where the Steelers (9-7) will try to keep their playoff hopes alive with a win over the AFC North champion Ravens (13-3). Pickett is expected to be the backup. While he said as a competitor he wants the ball, he understands Rudolph has earned the opportunity to see if he can build on back-to-back impressive performances in victories over Cincinnati and Seattle that have kept Pittsburgh's postseason hopes alive.

“Mason played well when he got in there,” Pickett said. “I have a ton of respect for Mason (with) everything he’s done and what our team has been doing. So now my job that I’m back healthy is to be the backup. If something happens, if he goes down, be ready to go and continue to support him the way I’ve been.”

Pickett said he is not ready to think about what the long-term ramifications might be of Rudolph's play. Pickett is under contract for at least two more seasons while Rudolph will be a free agent in March.

“It’s been so day by day, week by week,” said Pickett, who stressed he has a good relationship with both Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky. “We’ll figure that out when the time comes.”

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