Steelers stick with Mason Rudolph at QB against Ravens, even with Kenny Pickett available

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers have connected with Mason Rudolph ahead of their crucial regular season finale against Baltimore.

Coach Mike Tomlin said Monday that Rudolph will make his third consecutive start for the Steelers (9-7), even though Kenny Pickett is expected to be available after recovering from right ankle surgery. Rudolph was spectacular at times, throwing for 567 yards and two touchdowns during the win. cincinnati And seattle To help Pittsburgh keep their playoff chances alive.

The Steelers have several paths to reach the postseason, most of them dependent on beating the Ravens (13-3) on Saturday. Baltimore clinches the top seed in the AFC destroy miami Many more regulars could sit out Sunday — including MVP candidate Lamar Jackson — with home field advantage.

Pittsburgh will prepare as if Jackson is playing and even if Jackson is given a day off, Rudolph will likely have to deal with a defense that has the fewest points allowed in the league. Rudolph has certainly risen to the challenge, providing a welcome (and long-awaited) spark.

"They've done a good job and we've done a good job the last two weeks," Tomlin said. “We took care of the ball. He has taken care of the ball. We scored points at a rate we haven't scored so far this year. And because of the urgency of the moment and those reasons, we're going to leave the ball in his hands.”

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Pickett has not played since injuring his right ankle in the first half of a 24–10 loss to Arizona on December 3. Shortly thereafter he underwent "tightrope" surgery on the ankle and returned to practice two weeks early. While Pickett was listed as "questionable" prior to Pittsburgh's trip to Seattle, he was inactive as Rudolph rushed for 468 yards and scored 30 points for the second consecutive week for the first time in more than three years.

Tomlin stated that the medical staff had cleared Pickett to play, but pointed to Pickett's lack of practice time with the starting players and the possibility of both Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky being injured as reasons why. They did not make Pickett an emergency third line player. Seahawks.

Tomlin said Piquet is a "competitor" but understands the circumstances.

"He wants football, he wants to play, but at the same time, he's a team player," Tomlin said. “And so, you know, our agenda right now is to win football games. And so I think that's everybody's mindset."

Rudolph, a six-year veteran who is one of the longest-tenured players on the roster, spent the better part of the last four seasons on the bench and was buried on the depth chart by Arizona defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter through the summer of 2022. Pickett suffered a sprained right ankle and Trubisky spent 2 1/2 games without a starting offensive tackle this season, leading to offensive coordinator Matt Canada being fired a few days before Thanksgiving.

The 28-year-old Rudolph, a third-round pick in 2018, will be a free agent in March and he was only half-joking when he recently said he wondered if he'd be in the NFL or selling real estate in 2024. . His play after coming into the lineup amid a three-game losing streak means he'll have a chance to remain in the league next year, perhaps even in Pittsburgh.

"It's fun to play football after not doing a lot the last few years," Rudolph said after completing 18 of 24 passes for 274 yards, including a completion to George Pickens with less than two minutes remaining , which allowed the Steelers." To clear the clock.

This was a somewhat courageous decision and a sign of Tomlin's confidence in Rudolph and Rudolph's confidence in himself.

"He has a lot of confidence in himself and it's genuine," Tomlin said. “I think it's contagious. He's aggressive in (his) style of play, and I think that's helpful, especially when you're up against him. Taking calculated risks associated with the pursuit of victory is important, and he has demonstrated those things.

Tomlin allowed that starting Rudolph could have a big impact with Pickett — a 2022 first-round pick who is 14-10 as a starter — healthy, but he was unwilling to discuss potential impacts. Is, mostly because there is still so much at stake.

"We're the same outfit day-to-day, week-to-week," Tomlin said. “At this point, hypotheticals and speculations are meaningless for us. We have a lot of concrete challenges and a lot of concrete work to do, we're not wasting a lot of time speculating and things of that nature.

NOTES: Tomlin said S Minkah Fitzpatrick (knee) and LB Elandon Roberts (pectoral muscle) could return to practice sometime this week. Fitzpatrick has sat out the last two weeks and Roberts did not play in Sunday's win over the Bengals because of a concussion.

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