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NFL Sunday Primer: All eyes on Kenny Pickett — and maybe Bailey Zappe


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It has not been a season for rookie quarterback exploits in the NFL. The quarterbacks mostly were afterthoughts in this year’s NFL draft, and not a single one began this season as a starter.

Even so, rookie quarterbacks will be in focus on Sunday in Week 5. Kenny Pickett makes his first NFL start for the Pittsburgh Steelers in an early-afternoon game at Buffalo. And Bailey Zappe could make his first start when the New England Patriots host the Detroit Lions at 1 p.m. Eastern time in Foxborough, Mass., with usual starter Mac Jones listed as doubtful because of his high ankle sprain.

Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin officially named Pickett the starter Tuesday, two days after going to Pickett in favor of struggling starter Mitchell Trubisky at halftime of a 24-20 loss at home to the New York Jets.

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The move was inevitable. The Steelers made Pickett, a University of Pittsburgh product, the only quarterback chosen in the first round of the draft in April. But the switch came sooner than Tomlin would have preferred, with the Steelers sputtering along at 1-3 in the first season after Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement. Tomlin never has had a losing season in a head coaching tenure with the Steelers that began in 2007.

Pickett excelled during preseason, showing poise and passing accuracy. He undeniably provided the Steelers with a burst of energy against the Jets, with a pair of second-half rushing touchdowns. But he also threw a trio of interceptions in a 10-for-13, 120-yard passing performance. Tomlin and the Steelers probably will have to live with a few mistakes along the way.

Zappe likewise had his moments last Sunday. He was pressed into service during the Patriots’ game at Green Bay, with Jones sidelined and veteran backup Brian Hoyer’s day cut short when he suffered a head injury. Zappe threw a touchdown in a 10-for-15, 99-yard showing. The Patriots took the Packers to overtime but lost, 27-24, on a field goal as time expired in the 10-minute extra session. They also are 1-3.

The Patriots reportedly are holding out some hope that Jones could play Sunday. But they do seem confident in Zappe, an unheralded fourth-round draft pick from Western Kentucky. They’ll probably need to score points in bunches Sunday. The Lions are ranked first in the NFL in total offense and last in total defense. They’re coming off a 48-45 defeat to the Seattle Seahawks, who had totaled only 47 points in their three games this season before that.

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