The Morning Call (Sunday)

Rudolph gets perhaps final shot

- By Paul Zeise

The Steelers technicall­y do have something on the line Sunday when they play the Browns, as they can still get the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. In normal years, that spot comes with a first-round bye and the promise of a home game with a rowdy and hostile home crowd.

This season, however, it doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. Only the No. 1 seed, which was clinched by Kansas City, gets a firstround bye, and crowds at games are either non-existent or not significan­t thanks to COVID-19 restrictio­ns in place in most states.

Mike Tomlin is absolutely correct to give some key players the week off. He said all the right things about the Steelers being “in the business of winning” but that concept has some limitation­s in this case. The players who are on the field will play to win, but Tomlin understand­s that winning in the playoffs at this point is all that matters.

And a healthy, rested team on the road is in much better position to win in the playoffs than a beat up one at home in an empty stadium. That’s why Tomlin will rest the Steelers’ most important player, Ben Roethlisbe­rger, and instead hand the ball to backup Mason Rudolph.

Rudolph will get the start and Josh Dobbs will serve as his backup, and it wouldn’t be shocking if Dobbs got some opportunit­ies, as well. Tomlin made it very clear that even though Roethlisbe­rger and some others won’t play, this isn’t going to be treated like a preseason game. The Steelers will game plan and go to Cleveland with the intentions of winning the game,

“Make no mistake,” Tomlin said, “this does not change our intentions going to Cleveland this weekend.”

Winning is the bottom line in the NFL, but the most important thing about Sunday’s game will be Rudolph. This is his best (and maybe last) opportunit­y to show that the Steelers can believe in him as Roethlisbe­rger’s successor.

Rudolph needs to perform well and show some of what he did last season in his final game (before he got injured) against the Jets.

The Steelers’ playoff fortunes are the most pressing and important focus for now, but just beyond that, the priority has to be the quarterbac­k position. Maybe Roethlisbe­rger has three or four more years in him, or maybe he plays next year, the final year of his contract, and calls it a career. And if he does that, as it looks right now, the Steelers are not in a great position for a quarterbac­k succession plan unless Rudolph shows he can be that guy.

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