Steelers Finish Season Sweep of Bengals, Playoff Hopes Still Alive

Published by: Bear Acuda

Rarely do failed starting quarterbacks get another chance to prove their mettle. Rarely do quarterbacks labeled “draft busts” get the opportunity to take a hold of the reins, especially during a playoff push. And rarely do 3rd string quarterbacks (fulfilling the aforementioned requirements) get a chance to prove their worth by leap-frogging the 2nd string QB.

Mason Rudolph defied odds by doing just that, and in doing so, bought himself one more day under the sun.

In front of a Saturday NFL national audience, with college football fans looking to get their fix, Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7) 3rd-string QB Mason Rudolph played a pivotal role in revitalizing their season with a commanding 34-11 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals (8-7). In his first start in over two years, Rudolph and the Steelers’ O jumped all over the Bengals, with Rudolph throwing for 290 yards and two touchdowns. The performance helped the Steelers break a three-game losing streak (which included a home loss to the lowly Cardinals) while also capping off a season sweep of their AFC North rivals.

Rudolph’s performance was highlighted by an impressive 86-yard touchdown pass to George Pickens early in the game. The Steelers’ offense was further bolstered by touchdowns from Calvin Austin III and Najee Harris. The Steelers’ defense also contributed significantly, with interceptions from old dog Patrick Peterson and Eric Rowe, setting up key scoring drives.

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Despite trailing 24-0 at halftime, the Bengals attempted a comeback with an 80-yard touchdown pass from Jake Browning to Tee Higgins. However, Rudolph and Pickens connected again for a decisive 66-yard touchdown, sealing the game for Pittsburgh.

The Steelers’ win was a result of excellence in all three aspects of the game. Rudolph’s aggressive passing strategy paid off, including a deep throw to Pickens that led to a field goal just before halftime. Pickens had a standout night, surpassing 1,000 receiving yards for the season with four catches totaling 195 yards.

Pittsburgh converted three turnovers into 17 points, while the defense, employing a zone coverage strategy, effectively stifled the Bengals’ offense and new-ish starter Jake Browning (in for the injured Joe Burrow). The Steelers’ defensive effort was led by T.J. Watt, who recorded his 17th sack of the season, and Alex Highsmith, who contributed a sack and an interception.

The shorthanded Bengals, playing their first game on the NFL’s annual December-Saturday schedule, struggled without star receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who was sidelined due to a shoulder injury. Browning faced constant pressure from mixed attack points and made several mistakes, including a critical interception in the end zone by Peterson.

The turning point came early in the game when Peterson intercepted a pass from Browning in the end zone, thwarting a potential Bengals scoring drive. This was followed by a touchdown run from Austin, extending Pittsburgh’s lead.

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One of the game’s highlights was Pickens’ initial touchdown, a display of Rudolph’s precision and Pickens’ athleticism. Another notable moment was Jaylen Warren’s key block on Austin’s touchdown run.

T.J. Watt praised Rudolph’s performance and work ethic in a post-game interview, emphasizing his readiness and impact in the game.

Looking ahead, the Steelers will face the Seattle Seahawks, who are also in playoff contention following a recent win. Meanwhile, the Bengals, still not mathematically out of the playoffs, prepare for a challenging matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs, who boast one of the NFL’s strongest defenses.

This game was huge for the career of Mason Rudolph, not only because of the NFL Playoff implications, but for his current valuation as a suitable NFL quarterback. A game like this, stacked on-top of a few more strong starts, likely will buy Rudolph a minimum of three more years with The League at the QB2 position (elevating him from his previous designation with the Steelers). Not only that, he will have GMs across the NFL wondering if Rudolph has the potential to lead an organization. That will only help increase the leverage for his agent when negotiating his next contract.

But the question still remains:

Will the Steelers make the playoffs?

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