Steelers React to Loss of Roethlisberger for the Season
The next man up at quarterback is Mason Rudolph, who will be bringing two quarters of NFL experience and a conviction to “step up to the plate” with him to San Francisco this Sunday.
After relieving quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday afternoon against Seattle, backup Mason Rudolph went home and couldn’t help but contemplate becoming the Steelers’ starter.
“Yeah, of course I thought about it,” Rudolph acknowledged Monday afternoon on the South Side, a couple of hours after the Steelers had announced Roethlisberger would require elbow surgery and was done for the 2019 season.
“I obviously was waiting on the word from whoever, the trainer or coaches,” Rudolph continued. “You gotta react to adversity.”
The Steelers suspected as much all along, as they do every season.
Still, no one was anticipating this.
“I didn’t know he even got hurt until they said No. 2 (Rudolph) was up at halftime, so it was shocking,” running back Jaylen Samuels said. “But you know, it’s football, it happens.
“We knew injuries were going to happen. We knew adversity was going to happen at some point, and it happened to us pretty early.”
Losing Roethlisberger, a 16-year veteran, a two-time Super Bowl winner and the holder of numerous Steelers records, including most games started as a QB (216) and most games won (144) ranks about as high as it can get on the adversity scale.
“Probably like 10,” Samuels said. “When a great quarterback like him goes out, who’s a leader on this team and who makes things go, that’s a big loss for us.
“Other players around here, we just have to step up. Everybody has to step up, make plays, just make plays and ball out when they come to you.”
The two quarters Rudolph played against the Seahawks were his first two in an NFL regular-season game.
Rudolph is officially listed as a first-year pro (he was inactive for all 16 games last season as the No. 3 QB after arriving as a third-round pick out of Oklahoma State).
He’ll start for the first time this Sunday at San Francisco.
“You never know,” Rudolph said. “You gotta attack every day like it’s your last and pour everything into it and prepare like you are the starter. That’s what I tried to do last year even though I was the No. 3 guy. As tough as that was, I still tried to wake up and accomplish goals in practice and get the reps I could, make the most of them.
“I’m not into the business of predicting the future, I just know I prepare myself and will be ready to roll.”
As the new starter, Rudolph will now get the majority of the practice repetitions as the Steelers prepare for the 49ers.
Wide receiver James Washington maintained his former teammate at Oklahoma State will make the most of them.
“What he does in practice, he takes it to the game,” Washington said. “He watches film and he studies and he studies. What he sees from that week in preparation, you see him actually doing that in the game.
“We all have faith in him around here.”
Faith in Rudolph aside, it’ll take a profound adjustment to life without Roethlisberger, the franchise’s all-time leader in passing yards (56,545) and touchdown passes (363), and the Steelers’ starter (when available) since Week Three of the 2004 season.
“Yeah, it’s super weird, that’s for sure, really surreal,” guard David DeCastro said.
Added wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster: “It sucks. You have a quarterback like that who’s a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, great leader, great role model for our team. Me playing with him the past two years, he taught me so much as a person on the field and off the field and just made me a better player.
“Losing him, it’s going to be tough this year, but at the same time we have Mason. We all believe in him, that he’s going to step up and do the job. You saw a glimpse of him this past game.”
Rudolph went 12-for-19 passing for 112 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception (a deflection off the hands of wide receiver Donte Moncrief) against Seattle.
“I’m excited,” Rudolph said. “It’s kind of a sucky circumstance, with our leader and a good friend going down. But he would want me to step up and lead to the best of my ability.
“I’m going to do what I’ve always done and step up to the plate.”