The Pittsburgh Steelers had their backs against the wall heading into Week 16. After losing three consecutive games in the second half of the 2023 season, Mike Tomlin's squad was one strike away from being eliminated from playoff contusion. But just like that, this team found new hope. Oddly enough, it came at the hands of third-string quarterback, Mason Rudolph.
From his very first pass of the game, Rudolph was out to make a statement when he ripped a pass in stride to George Pickens on a post route that went for an 86-yard touchdown. We thought he might have fizzled out after that impressive pass, but this wasn't the case at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.
In the first half, Rudolph led three touchdown drives on his way to 24 total first-half points. In the process, he completed 12 of 19 passes for 193 yards in the first two quarters. By the end of the game, Rudolph had complied 290 yards and 2 touchdowns on 10.7 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 124.0, according to ESPN box score stats.
This performance was somehow more impressive than even the gaudy numbers would suggest. Though Rudolph missed a couple of wide-open passes down the field, his willingness to sling the football is what led to so many big-play opportunities in the first place.
Unlike Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky for most of the past two seasons, Rudolph did not shy away from passing over the middle of the field. This was his bread and butter against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16.
This was the first time a Steelers quarterback earned at least 250 yards and 2 passing touchdowns in a game since Ben Roethlisberger did so in 2021. Now Rudolph's impressive performance is raising some serious debates at the quarterback position.
Mason Rudolph should be the Steelers' starting QB for the remainder of the season
Kenny Pickett practiced limitedly in Week 16, and it seems like there's a good chance he will be ready to go against the Seahawks on New Year's Eve. But should the former first-round pick get his job back?
We have now seen 25 career starts from Pickett. During this time, the former 2022 first-round pick has averaged a dismal 179.0 yards per game, via Pro Football Reference. Meanwhile, a Pickett-led offense has never averaged more than 18.1 points per game in each of his first two NFL seasons.
Injuries have plagued Pickett early in his career, and perhaps he needs a bigger shake now that Matt Canada is no longer the Steelers' offensive coordinator. At the same time, it's really hard to bench a guy who just put up the biggest offensive outing we have seen at the quarterback position from this team in two years.
In his first start since 2021, Mason Rudolph showed more poise, confidence, and big-play ability than we have seen from Kenny Pickett or Mitch Trubisky over the past two years. The Steelers rallied behind their third-string quarterback, and it certainly looks like this is the man who gives them the best chance to make a playoff push.