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Mason Rudolph put the Steelers in position to win in OT against the Lions twice

Did Mason Rudolph look great in his emergency start vs. the Lions at Heinz Field on Sunday? No, but he did just enough to put his team in position to win in overtime. In other words, he did his job as a backup.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I realize this article will be met with a bunch of comments about how you’ve seen enough of Mason Rudolph, the Steelers backup quarterback since 2019 and the youngster who supposedly came to town wrapped in a “first-round grade” following the 2018 NFL Draft, and that he’s not the future of the position.

I really wish you’d save it, though, because it’s getting a little old.

I don’t believe anyone has ever said that Rudolph is the actual future at quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers (at least nobody officially associated with the organization), but he passes a football, so naturally, folks attach a whole lot of meaning to that. Does anyone think Isaiah Buggs is the Steelers’ future as a starting defensive lineman? I mean, he’s a young backup along the line, right?

Anyway, my point is this: just because a youngster is a backup quarterback, this does not mean that he’s a team’s future at the position. He’s not necessarily being groomed for the role of starter. Would it be nice if he developed into something? Sure, but that hardly ever happens.

A youngster or not, a backup quarterback’s job is to be ready to come in and play adequately whenever the starter is either injured, suspended or, in the case of Ben Roethlisberger, tests positive for COVID-19. Was Rudolph’s play adequate in Pittsburgh’s 16-16 tie against the lowly Lions on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field?

It’s really hard to answer that question. Rudolph did complete 30 of 50 passes for 242 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He looked fantastic on the first drive, but his play was kind of shaky after that. He threw high. He threw low. He threw behind. He missed a wide-open Ray-Ray McCloud at the goal line.

However, Rudolph was pretty nimble and even scampered for 26 yards and also knocked a Lions defender out of the game on another run on the same third-quarter drive that he missed McCloud for an easy touchdown.

In other words, Rudolph was hit or miss on Sunday, just like most backup quarterbacks.

When all was said and done, however, Rudolph didn’t do enough through five full quarters to win the football game...or did he?

On the second play of Pittsburgh’s first possession of overtime, Rudolph connected with receiver Diontae Johnson on a deep sideline pass that would have netted 39 yards down to the Lions’ 42-yard line had Johnson not lost the football before being taken to the turf. He did, and Detroit recovered.

We’ll truly never know what Rudolph would have been able to do on the Steelers' second possession of overtime since the second play of that possession saw rookie center Kendrick Green airmail a shotgun snap over Rudolph’s head, thus turning second and six into third and 25.

Rudolph may have looked as comfortable as he did all game during Pittsburgh’s final possession of overtime, completing passes of six, eight, nine, seven and 10 yards, respectively while driving the offense from its own 21 to the Detroit 39 with 24 seconds left on a running game clock. Unfortunately, Rudolph’s final pass, a one-yard strike to rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth, was fumbled away and recovered by the visitors to put the finishing touches on the whole “kissing your cousin” feel to the day.

Would kicker Chris Boswell have been given a chance to win the game from 50-plus yards out had the first fumble not happened? Have you seen Boswell do his thing this year? He may currently be the best field goal kicker on the planet, Justin Tucker, be damned. Heck, for all we know, Rudolph may have connected on a pretty 42-yard, game-winning touchdown pass on the very next play and changed some minds about his abilities as a professional quarterback.

Boswell certainly would have been granted an opportunity to win the game if not for the second fumble.

We’ll never know if Boswell would have been successful on either kick (he would have ended things on his first try), but the bottom line is this: Rudolph put his team in a position to win the game in overtime—twice. Rudolph wasn’t pretty. He wasn’t exactly accurate. He missed receivers. He often looked like he was targeting the ground.

But Rudolph is the backup quarterback for a reason, and quite frankly, I don’t think the offense looked much worse than it had in the eight games prior to Sunday’s.

Is Mason Rudolph the future at quarterback for your Pittsburgh Steelers? Immaterial at the moment. He did a decent enough job as a backup this past Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.

The end.