Steelers’ Mason Rudolph to start again if Kenny Pickett still out


PITTSBURGH — Quarterback Mason Rudolph already saved the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Christmas with a win against the Cincinnati Bengals, and now he’ll have the opportunity to bring his team a shiny start to the New Year, too.

Though coach Mike Tomlin stopped short of naming Rudolph the starter against the Seattle Seahawks on New Year’s Eve, he said Rudolph will start the week with the ball as Kenny Pickett continues to rehab following his Dec. 4 TightRope ankle surgery.

“We’re in the same position with Kenny as we were last week,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “We’ll give him a few reps and see where that leads us. … Obviously we have a great deal more comfort because of what we’ve seen in-stadium for Mason Rudolph and that helps us, but we still really are in the same posture. He’s got the ball to start the week, and we’ll see where Kenny is from a mobility perspective and then kind of go from there and playing day by day based on the things that we see from that perspective.”

Rudolph took all the first team reps in practice in preparation for the Bengals, while Pickett participated in individual drills throughout the week before being ruled out following the final practice.

Rudolph, then, started on Saturday and led the Steelers offense on six scoring drives, putting up 34 points — the most points scored by the team since 2021. Rudolph completed 17 of 27 attempts for 290 yards with two passing touchdowns. No other Steelers quarterback has thrown for more than 278 yards this season.

With Rudolph at quarterback, the Steelers also had three plays of at least 40 yards — all on George Pickens receptions — marking their most 40-yard plays since Week 17 of the 2020 season.

“They stepped up big in a big moment,” Tomlin said of his players. “They smiled in the face of adversity and played well on a lot of fronts and did what was required to secure victory. I think highlighting that obviously was the play of Mason Rudolph. … We talked about him having a great deal of belief in himself and being aggressive in mentality and play and those things were confirmed in game.

“I thought he did a really good job of being comfortable being himself, communicating with people regardless of the moments I thought that showed the confidence that he has in himself showed, and I also thought that he remained aggressive throughout.”

Tomlin also cited Rudolph’s 66-yard touchdown to Pickens on third-and-one in the third quarter as an example of the quarterback’s aggressiveness being an “asset.”

Tomlin deflected questions about what Pickett’s potential availability could mean for the quarterback depth chart, repeating that he’s “not into the hypotheticals.”

“We’ll see what the performance looks like tomorrow,” Tomlin said of Pickett. “Mason Rudolph has the ball as we stand here today.”

On defense, the Steelers will be without linebacker Elandon Roberts, who sustained a pectoral injury in the first half of the Bengals game. With Roberts out, the Steelers will turn to Myles Jack and Blake Martinez, two inside linebackers who were retired at different points in the last year. Both, though, returned to the field by initially signing with the Steelers practice squad after injuries ravaged the position. Like Jack, safety Eric Rowe was also elevated from the practice squad to the active roster on Saturday. While Jack had a sack, Rowe nabbed an interception.

“We didn’t have ’em on practice squad as developing players,” Tomlin said. “We had ’em on the practice squad as capable players, guys that we could call upon and give us varsity-like work and effort and their play reflected that.”

Rowe was part of a patchwork safety group on Saturday, joining cornerback-turned-safety Patrick Peterson, who also had an interception, on the field. The duo saw action with Damontae Kazee’s suspension and injuries to Minkah Fitzpatrick and Trenton Thompson. While Fitzpatrick was out against the Bengals following a knee injury sustained a week earlier, Tomlin said his All-Pro safety will return to practice as a limited participant this week along with Thompson, who missed the Bengals game with a stinger.

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