PITTSBURGH, PA — Mason Rudolph’s teammates clearly appreciated his performance during the Steelers’ crucial win over the Bengals on Saturday night. Rudolph, who hadn’t started in a regular season game in over two years prior to Saturday’s 34-11 win, received the game ball from captain Cam Heyward.
“It was great,” Rudolph said of the gesture. “Cam’s our leader of our team. … It meant a lot. It was special. I’m not one for speeches, so I just kind of kept it quick and broke it down.”
Rudolph was deserving of the game ball after throwing for 290 yards and two touchdowns on 17 of 27 passing. His performance allowed Pittsburgh (8-7) to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture with upcoming road games at Seattle (7-7) and Baltimore (11-3).
Rudolph acknowledged afterwards that he wasn’t sure if he would ever get an opportunity to start in another NFL game prior to Mike Tomlin making him the starter for Saturday’s game earlier in the week. The 28-year-old was actually unsigned this offseason until Pittsburgh signed him to a one-year deal on May 17.
“You never know,” he said. “You’ve got confidence in yourself as a player, but you’re kind of thinking, am I going to jump into the commercial real estate realm next year or am I going to be playing quarterback. Absolutely those thoughts come across your head.”
As far what led to his big night, Rudolph said that a good week of practices and meetings with Pittsburgh’s offensive coaching staff was key.
“I think when you build a confidence through the week and the preparation, Coach Sullivan and the way he took a lot of input from me and sort of the things that I like,” Rudolph said. “A lot of the same stuff as Kenny and Mitch, but a few tweaks here and there. He was very open to my input. I think you just feel confident when you have a good week of practice and you have no regrets about, did I watch enough film. I wanted to have no regrets in that department. That gives you the confidence.”
Getting the lead early, Rudolph said, gave the Steelers more opportunities to take deep shots with the Bengals’ defense gearing up to stop the run. The result was several big plays downfield that included Rudolph’s 44-yard completion to George Pickens just before the half and a 66-yard touchdown pass to Pickens in the third quarter that stretched Pittsburgh’s lead to 31-8.
As good as some of his passes were, Rudolph’s most impressive play on Saturday night may have been his first down run deep in Bengals territory. Instead of sliding and possibly not getting the first down, Rudolph dove head-first into traffic while giving Pittsburgh a first-and goal. Najee Harris scored on the next play to give Pittsburgh a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
When asked about how he will start next week, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that it was too early to have those types of conversations. While he would certainly like to get another opportunity, Rudolph will take a little bit of time to savor what happened on Saturday night.
“Just a lot of gratitude. Just so thankful to God for throwing me a bone and giving me an opportunity to play. I’ve got my family here, celebrating Christmas. It’ll be a fun time.”
Speaking of Christmas, Rudolph said that there was one Christmas present he received a long time ago that rivals the game ball he received from Heyward.
“I got a tree house when I was like 12, which was pretty cool,” Rudolph said with a smile. “But this was definitely up there.”