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Sunday Might Be Mason Rudolph’s Last Chance to Make Case as Ben Roethsliberger’s Successor

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At some point in the future, Ben Roethlisberger is no longer going to be the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The play of the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer down the stretch run of the 2020 season brought that very clearly into focus.

Roethlisberger insists he’s been relatively healthy, but he put up passer ratings in the 60s in back-to-back Steelers losses in Weeks 14 and 15, his play was not only not up to the level of play that he’s established throughout his career, but not even good enough to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.

At some point, whether it’s this offseason, next offseason or some other time, the Steelers are going to have to replace Roethlisberger and already the national media has been speculating about external options such as former Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins and New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold.

But one man has a head start on being the next player to be the staring quarterback in black and gold, if he can take advantage of the opportunity that has been presented to him.

Mason Rudolph filled in for Roethlisberger for most of the 2019 season, and his performance was, in Rudolph’s words, “good, bad and ugly.”

In eight starts sandwiched around a concussion and a late-season benching, Rudolph threw for 1,765 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions for an 82 passer rating. It was a performance that left many, Rudolph included, wanting from the former third-round pick out of Oklahoma State.

Since then, he’s had plenty of time to think about what went right, what went wrong, analyze and re-analyze the game time and attempt to implement changes in his game both physically and mentally to make sure that the next time he gets a chance, he’s more able to take advantage of it.

Unfortunately for Rudolph, that chance has been a long time coming. Backup quarterbacks in the NFL can usually count on getting plenty of reps in the preseason to show off their ability to the public and league at large, helping raise their profile even if they’re unable to unseat the man ahead of them on the depth chart.

This season, there was no training camp. While Roethlisberger’s health has been far from perfect this season, he’s yet to miss a significant stretch of time due to injury, meaning that Rudolph’s only playing time has been in mop-up duty, where he’s thrown a grand total of four passes this season.

If Rudolph has been a better quarterback throughout 2020 than he was in 2019, he and the Steelers players and coaches are the only ones that are aware of it, based on what Rudolph has been able to show in training camp and during practices this season.
Rudolph has tried to take advantage of those opportunities, he said on Friday, treating the extra reps he got in training camp an during Wednesdays when Roethlisberger is typically off as his game days.

“When you’re a backup quarterback in this league, every week you’re trying to take advantage of the reps you get in practice,” Rudolph said. “Wednesday’s is kind of my game day of the week, when Ben rests. I’ve tried to treat that day as well as every other day in practice, whether I’m getting reps or not, as development day and I think Coach [Matt] Canada and Coach Randy [Fichtner] have done a good job developing all the younger quarterbacks.”

The ultimate decision-makers of who will replace Roethlisberger reside inside that bubble, of course, but if Rudolph wants to show the Steelers fans and the rest of the league that he has a rightful claim to be the next starter in Pittsburgh, he will get one guaranteed chance to do so this Sunday in Cleveland.

There’s a lot going on in the lead up to this game, with Rudolph facing the Browns and Myles Garrett for the first time since Garrett assaulted him with his own helmet on the field in Cleveland last year and then accused Rudolph of racism.

It’s also a near-must-win game for the Browns, who seemed to be shoe-ins for an AFC Wild Card spot.

It adds up to a game that means a lot to a lot of people, if not necessarily to the Steelers’ end result for the 2020 season.

“I’d be lying if I said there’s won’t be any jitters, but I’m not going to be too hyped up,” Rudolph said. “I think you treat it like a day of work. like I said that that stuff gets out of your system early. But what an opportunity. Excited to be able to lead the team and play a meaningful game.

Steelers

Packers Could Pass Steelers in All-Time Playoff Wins in NFC Championship Game

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The Green Bay Packers can pass the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL record books with a win in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.

The Packers and Steelers are currently tied with 36 all-time NFL playoff wins, the second-most behind the New England Patriots, who have 37.

The Packers will be playing the man responsible for most of those wins in New England, now-Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady.

Both the Packers and Patriots have a higher postseason winning percentage than the Steelers, with New England holding a 37-21 record and Green Bay 36-23, while Pittsburgh is 26-26 after a Wild Card Round loss to Cleveland this month.

None of the other top five teams, including Dallas (35-28) and San Francisco (32-30) are still alive this year. Tampa Bay has just eight playoff wins in its history, the sixth-fewest in league history.

The Buffalo Bills (16-17) and Kansas City Chiefs (14-19) are 19th and 20th in playoff wins entering their AFC Championship Game showdown on Saturday.

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Pro Football Hall of Fame

Mike Tomlin: Hall of Fame Class of 2021 Incomplete without Steelers Scout Bill Nunn

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Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t get a vote when it comes to who enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he made his opinions known on who he thinks should be a part of the Hall’s Class of 2021, making a public plea on Monday for former Steelers scout Bill Nunn to be included.

“There is no way the Class of 2021 can be complete without the legend, Bill Nunn, being a part of it,” Tomlin wrote.

Nunn, who died in 2014, was selected as the lone finalist recommended by the nine-member contributor committee in August. He, senior committee finalist Drew Pearson, coaches committee finalist Tom Flores and 15 modern-era finalists, including former Steelers guard Alan Faneca, will all be on the ballot when the voters meet before the Super Bowl.

Nunn, a Homewood native and Westinghouse alum, was a key figure in the Steelers’ success in the 1970s and helped revolutionize the scouting process for players at historically black colleges and universities, that had been previously underrepresented in the NFL after having worked as a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Courier.

“Bill’s contributions to the Steelers were extraordinary over the 46 years he was part of the organization,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a press release in August. “He was a special person that was a close friend and mentor before his passing in 2014. His lessons and stories are still evident in our everyday work. 

“I look forward to hopefully celebrating his induction next year at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His legacy and career deserve to be recognized with the greatest individual honor in football, and we are excited he was chosen by the contributor committee as a finalist.”

Tomlin also wished luck to three players that he coached: former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive backs Ronde Barber and John Lynch and Faneca.

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Steelers

Steelers Minkah Fitzpatrick, T.J. Watt Named to PFWA All-NFL Team

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For the second season in a row, Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and outside linebacker T.J. Watt have been named to the Pro Football Writers of American All-AFC and All-NFL teams for the second consecutive season.

Fitzpatrick was also named an Associated Press All-Pro this season for the second straight year. In 2020, Fitzpatrick had 79 total tackles, eleven passes defended and a team-high four interceptions, one of which he returned for a 37-yard touchdown.

The other All-NFL and All-AFC safety was Tyrann Mathieu of the Kansas City Chiefs.

during a regular season game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020 in Pittsburgh, PA. (192119000006#1 / Pittsburgh Steelers)

Watt was also named a first-team AP All-Pro after leading the NFL in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hits. His 15 sacks were one off a franchise record and he racked them up while playing in only 15 games.

Watt was named the FOX Sports NFL Defensive Player of the Year and remains the favorite to win the prestigious AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award at the postseason NFL Honors banquet.

Watt was also named the Steelers’ team MVP for the second straight season after finishing with 53 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 41 quarterbacks hits, two forced fumbles and an interception this season.

The other All-NFL outside linebacker was Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears, while Bradley Chubb of the Cleveland Browns was the other All-AFC outside linebacker.

Both players were also selected to the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl team. The Pro Bowl will not be played. Instead, the Pro Bowl events will be led virtually and the game will be streamed via Madden NFL 21.

Only the Steelers and Los Angeles Rams had two All-NFL players on defense, tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The Green Bay Packers had the most players selected with three, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, tackle David Bakhitiari and wide receiver Davante Adams.

Full All-NFL team:

2020 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM
Offense
QB – Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
RB – Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings; Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans*
WR – Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers; Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
C – Corey Linsley, Green Bay Packers
G – Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns; Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts#
T – David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers; Jack Conklin, Cleveland Browns

Defense
DE – Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns; Trey Hendrickson, New Orleans Saints
DT – DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts; Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams^
OLB – Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears; T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers*
MLB – Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers
CB – Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins; Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams
S – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers*; Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City Chiefs

Special Teams
PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens#
P – Jake Bailey, New England Patriots
KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Chicago Bears*
PR – Gunner Olszewski, New England Patriots
ST – George Odum, Indianapolis Colts

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