Steelers will turn to Mason Rudolph once again if Kenny Pickett's right ankle can't go vs. Seattle

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) passes during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH – Mason Rudolph's dynamic play against Cincinnati helped keep the Pittsburgh Steelers' season alive. The longtime backup quarterback could get a chance to do it again when the Steelers visit Seattle on New Year's Eve.

Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Rudolph will “have the ball” to begin the week and will get the nod against the Seahawks if starter Kenny Pickett's surgically repaired right ankle is not ready in time.

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Rudolph threw for 290 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-11 blowout win over Cincinnati, Pittsburgh's biggest offensive outburst in a win in more than three years as the Steelers (8-7) snapped a three-game losing streak. Rudolph looked comfortable while throwing the ball deep to George Pickens, who had 195 yards receiving and two scores.

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

Pickett hasn't played since injuring his right ankle against Arizona on Dec. 3. He underwent “tightrope” surgery a couple of days later and returned to practice in a limited capacity last week. Tomlin declined to get into hypotheticals in terms of what boxes Pickett would have to check to get back on the field and is taking an approach similar to last week, meaning Rudolph will practice with the starters while Pickett works through his rehab.

“We'll see what (Pickett's) performance looks like (Wednesday),” Tomlin said. “Mason Rudolph has the ball as we stand here today.”

The Steelers have a narrow path to the playoffs that starts with wins on the road against Seattle (8-7) and Baltimore (12-3) along with a little help elsewhere. A loss to the Bengals would have all but eliminated them. Instead, Rudolph gave one of the NFL's worst offenses a needed jolt by hitting Pickens for an 86-yard catch-and-run touchdown on Pittsburgh's second snap and the Steelers cruised from there.

While Tomlin stressed he was confident Rudolph — one of the longest-tenured players on the team who has been third on the depth chart the past two seasons — could shake off rust quickly, “we feel better having tangible evidence of performance this week.”

Pittsburgh's 34 points were its most in a victory since putting up 36 against Cincinnati in 2020. The 23-point margin of victory was also the largest since the Steelers beat Jacksonville by 24 that same season. Cincinnati's lone sack was the only reason Pittsburgh finished with 397 yards instead of topping 400 for just the second time since 2020.

Rudolph said after his first win as a starter since 2019 that he hoped he'd get another shot but that it wasn't his call. Maybe, but Tomlin's more muted approach to Pickett's availability compared to even a week ago offered a strong hint that barring Pickett making a massive leap over the next few days, Rudolph be on the field as Pittsburgh tries to win in Seattle for just the second time in franchise history.

The Steelers will be without inside linebacker Elandon Roberts, who sustained a pectoral muscle against Cincinnati. Tomlin is more optimistic about safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who could practice this week after injuring his knee in a loss to Indianapolis on Dec. 16.



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