Pittsburgh Steelers news: Mason Rudolph to start for Ben Roethlisberger in Week 17

The Pittsburgh Steelers are starting Mason Rudolph over Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback for Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns.

By Matt Fitzgerald
Dec 22, 2019; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) throws a pass against the New York Jets during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a rough finish to their 2020 season, and in order to rest quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the playoffs, they’ll start Mason Rudolph under center for Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns.

Rudolph does have starting experience from last year, when he posted a 5-3 record and appeared in 10 games total, throwing for 13 touchdowns, nine interceptions and logging an 82.0 passer rating.

Pittsburgh Steelers news: Mason Rudolph in for Big Ben at QB for regular-season finale

Head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed the big Steelers news regarding their quarterback situation on Tuesday, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. This certainly enhances the Browns’ chances of pulling off their win-and-in Week 17 playoff scenario. If Cleveland pulls off a victory, it’ll mark the team’s first postseason berth since 2002.

Much of the motivation behind this move, along with the presumptive resting of other key Pittsburgh players, stems from the fact that the Steelers have had a wonky 2020 schedule. Various COVID-19 complications — notably leading to their Week 12 game versus the Baltimore Ravens being played on a Wednesday — left Pittsburgh without a true bye week.

Despite the lack of rest, the Steelers rode an elite defense and a quick passing game to an 11-0 start. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse thereafter amid a string of three consecutive losses.

After falling into a 24-7 hole this past Sunday against Indianapolis, though, Roethlisberger rallied his team against the Colts, completing a stunning comeback to clinch the AFC North crown with a 28-24 triumph.

Related: Best 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback options to replace Ben Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh Steelers news: Can Mason Rudolph crush Cleveland’s playoff hopes?

Steelers news: Mason Rudolph vs. the Browns again
Nov 14, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95) hits Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) with his own helmet as offensive guard David DeCastro (66) tries to stop Garrett during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The last time Rudolph faced the Browns, he was on the losing side, but it was a Pyrrhic victory of sorts for Cleveland.

In the closing moments of that contest, superstar Browns pass-rusher Myles Garrett swung Rudolph’s own helmet at him in a heated confrontation. It ultimately resulted in a six-game suspension for Garrett, who accused Rudolph of using a racial slur, which the signal-caller denied doing.

That saga only adds to the backdrop of this coming Sunday’s showdown. Cleveland fans would be crestfallen to see Rudolph emerge victorious with what will presumably be a collection of Pittsburgh backups on both sides of the ball.

The Browns had their own coronavirus-related issues in Week 16. Instead of locking up a playoff berth against the one-win New York Jets, Cleveland had to play without its top four wide receivers and proceeded to lose 23-16.

Talk about a golden opportunity for Sunday’s hosts: the Steelers resting Big Ben and potentially many others with a spot in the AFC’s Wild Card Weekend at stake for the rival Browns.

It’ll be utterly fascinating to see if Cleveland shakes off the ineptitude of years past to get it done.

Related: NFL Power Rankings – Ranking each team for NFL Playoffs.