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Mason Rudolph’s journey from undesirable to undeniable

How Mason Rudolph went from polarizing castoff to potential franchise quarterback

Pittsburgh Steelers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Conor Courtney/Getty Images

The career renaissance of Mason Rudolph has been a delight to witness in real time over the last two weeks.

In his last two games, Rudolph is averaging over 280 yards per game with a passer rating of 112, which leads all quarterbacks with at least 50 pass attempts over that span. The Steelers also scored their most points in a game since 2021, and scored 30 points in consecutive weeks for the first time since 2020. After two incredible performances, Rudolph has earned his third straight start in what could be the Steelers’ final game of the season.

Regardless on if the Steelers make the playoffs or not, Rudolph will undoubtedly get a nice pay day this offseason, be it with the Steelers or elsewhere. And there will be a vocal part of the Steelers’ fanbase that will want him back, which is wild considering the road Rudolph has walked since being drafted in 2018.

To say the last six seasons have been a little bumpy would be like saying Primanti Bros. puts a little coleslaw on their sandwiches. To be frank, Rudolph has gone through the f***ing ringer during his time in Pittsburgh.

When he first arrived, Ben Roethlisberger was critical of his selection in the third round because he felt that the Steelers could have gotten a fundamental piece that could have helped them pursue a Super Bowl. While you can understand Roethlisberger’s sentiment, that was Rudolph’s “Welcome to Pittsburgh” moment- the star of the team publicly acknowledging he didn’t want him there.

Then came the 2019 season, and Rudolph was forced into the Steelers’ Week 2 matchup against, oddly enough, the Seattle Seahawks after Roethlisberger suffered an elbow injury. In his first ever appearance at the NFL level, he finished his day with a 92.4 passer rating and two touchdowns, nearly leading the Steelers to a win in improbable circumstances. Rudolph threw two touchdown passes in his first three career starts before he was injured against the Baltimore Ravens and Duck Hodges was forced into the lineup. Pittsburgh defeated the Chargers with Hodges under center before going into their bye week. When they came out of the other side of the bye, Rudolph returned and the Steelers kept winning. Pittsburgh rattled off three straight wins over the Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts, and Los Angeles Rams. Rudolph threw six touchdowns to just one interception in that span.

That would be the final highlight of Rudolph’s season. He threw four interceptions against the Browns on that Thursday night game (you know the one), and the Steelers turned back to Hodges after Rudolph struggled against the Bengals the following week. After a loss to Buffalo in Week 15, with Hodges, the Steelers turned back to Oklahoma State product in the penultimate game against the New York Jets where the Steelers would lose 16-10 after Rudolph was injured. Hodges started the final game against the Ravens, and Pittsburgh missed the playoffs. Rudolph finished the year with a 13-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio with a passer rating of 82. He appeared in the season finale in 2020 against the Browns, throwing two touchdowns in a losing effort.

His next start wouldn’t come until 2021 against the Detroit Lions due to Roethlisberger testing positive for COVID-19. Rudolph threw for 277 yards along with one touchdown and one interception as the Steelers tied the Lions. Many expected that to be the last time Rudolph would appear in a Steelers uniform. His relationship with the fans had been rocky, to say the least. They booed him a lot during that 2019 season, favoring the cult-hero Hodges. They continued to boo him during the 2022 pre-season opener when he was the second quarterback to enter the game against, you guessed it, the Seattle Seahawks, rather than Kenny Pickett. That polarization with the fans is why it was so surprising when Rudolph came back in 2023, signing a one-year deal.

That said, it felt like the fans started showing him more support as the year went on. In the pre-season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rudolph uncorked a missile to Calvin Austin for a long touchdown, which earned vocal praise on social media. As the regular season went on, and the Steelers’ offense struggled heavily, some were calling for Rudolph to replace Pickett after the embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Browns.

When Rudolph did finally get his shot, he ran with it. This is a completely different guy than we saw four years ago. His pocket presence is good. Not just better or solid for a backup- it’s good. He believes in himself to make the tight throws and to take the shots downfield, and he clearly believes in his receivers to make the plays if he puts them in position to do so. This is a very different Mason Rudolph we’re seeing, and he’s earned all the praise being thrown his way.

This is a long-form way of saying that Rudolph has been through a lot with this team, and with its fan base. These last two games have been about more than just winning and playing well. It’s been about a guy who was labeled a failure and only remembered for being beat with is own helmet. It’s about overcoming the constant hate from fans when it was there for no good reason to begin with. And it’s about the six seasons it took for him to go from undesirable to undeniable.