PITTSBURGH – Unless Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow injury forces the incumbent Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback to miss significant time, Sunday served more like a preview of an eventual Mason Rudolph era in Pittsburgh more than it showed an immediate reality.
Either way, Sunday showed that things may not be so bad when the second-year quarterback from Oklahoma State gets the keys to the offense on a full-time basis.
Yes, the Steelers lost 28-26 to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Yes, five possessions is not a reliable sample size.
At least on Sunday, Rudolph showed that the Steelers don’t have to change too much of what they do with the ball than when Roethlisberger is on the field.
“We didn’t change the offense for him,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Mason is capable. He has been a part of this thing, he is the backup quarterback. We are capable of functioning in a very normal manner when he is in there and we did.”
Rudolph was 12 of 19 for 112 yards and a pair of touchdowns, all coming after an interception on his second career attempt. Even then, Rudolph tossed a high ball to receiver Donte Moncrief, who had the ball go through his hands and ricochet off his helmet before it landed in the arms of Seattle’s Bradley McDougald.
His first career completion – on the Steelers’ next series – was way more exciting according to most in attendance at Heinz Field.
A flea-flicker with JuJu Smith-Schuster on the receiving end of a 45-yard strike, set the Steelers up for an eventual field goal, cutting the Seahawks’ lead to a point.
The pass itself, while a big gainer, was not as on the money as Rudolph would have hoped.
“I hadn’t run it once,” Rudolph confessed. “But we have run it a few times in practice, so I had a good feel for the play and taking care of the ball there. JuJu did a great job, with the under throwing of the ball, we probably could have scored if it was more accurate.”
Seattle answered with a touchdown. So did the Steelers as Rudolph marched the team 75 yards with an 8-yard pass to tight end Vance McDonald paying off the 12-play drive.
Rudolph even converted a third-and-5 with a 7-yard scramble reminiscent of a younger Roethlisberger.
His two-point conversion pass – an attempt to find Smith-Schuster was picked off by Lano Hill.
“I was looking to score with JuJu Smith-Schuster in the back of the end zone there,” Rudolph said “I kind of had my eyes right, and had some trash come from the left side of my vision, just missed him there. That’s on me.”
A 3-yard touchdown pass to McDonald, set up when the defense created a Seattle fumble, complete with Devin Bush returning the ball to the Seahawks’ 3 capped the scoring and the offense’s day with 5:34 remaining.
While the style of play may be similar, there is still a difference between Roethlisberger, a decorated veteran, and Rudolph, who saw his first regular-season action on Sunday.
“Obviously, things will change big time,” McDonald said. “It will be different. I think (Roethlisberger) and Mason have similar play styles. With the experience we will be missing from Ben, it will be different. It’s going to be hard for him to not have football if he is not here next week.”