Browns-Steelers week is officially here.
Just minutes after the Browns defeated the Dolphins, Cleveland defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was asked if he hopes to see Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph back under center for next week's game between the two teams. Rudolph, who threw four interceptions during Pittsburgh's Week 11 loss to Cleveland, was benched in favor of Devlin "Duck" Hodges during the Steelers' win over the Bengals on Sunday.
"I hope he plays," Richardson said, via ESPN. "You see his last game?"
Technically, Rudolph's last game was against the Bengals, when he wasn't much better than he was during the Steelers' 21-7 loss in Cleveland. On Sunday, Rudolph completed half of his 16 passes that included a red zone interception before being benched before the Steelers' second possession of the second half. Trailing 7-3, Hodges quickly gave the Steelers the lead, throwing a 79-yard touchdown pass to James Washington on his third play under center. Hodges helped lead two more scoring drives in Pittsburgh's 16-10 victory.
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While Richardson hopes to face Rudolph, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin Myles Garrett. Garrett, who has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL after striking Rudolph in the head with Rudolph's helmet during the final seconds of Cleveland's 21-7 win, said Rudolph called him a racial slur prior to hitting Rudolph with the helmet.for next Sunday's game. Tomlin also acknowledged that the past week was a tough one for Rudolph, who was fined $50,000 for his role in the fight between himself and Browns pass rusher
"Absolutely not," Rudolph said Sunday when asked if Garrett may have heard anything that could have been misheard or misconstrued, via Chris Adamski of the Tribune-Review. "There is nothing, not even close."
Rudolph, while not making excuses for Sunday's performance against the Bengals, admitted that Garrett's accusation temporarily left him distraught.
"I think any human would be in one day when your integrity's intact and something's said about you that's totally untrue," he said. "I couldn't believe it – and I couldn't believe that he would, you know, go that route after the fact. But it is what it is. I think I moved on and (for) one day it was tough, but moved on, and we're good to go now."
For the first time in over a decade, Sunday's game will have major implications for both teams. At 6-5, the Steelers are currently sixth in the AFC standings and would be in the playoffs if the postseason started today. The Browns, following Sunday's win over the Dolphins, are now 5-6 and still in position to possibly claim their first playoff spot since 2002. While their defense allowed 24 points in Sunday's win, the Browns' offense continued to make progress after a slow start to the season. Quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns, while Nick Chubb rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown. Chubb also caught three passes for 58 yards, while the duo of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. combined to catch 16 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns.
Cleveland's offense will be tested against a Pittsburgh defense that forced four sacks and two crucial turnovers against the Bengals while holding Cincinnati to just 11 first downs and 2-of-12 efficiency on third down. While the Steelers' defense should be able to hold its own against Mayfield and the Browns' offense, the real question is whether or not the Steelers' offense will be able to carry its weight, regardless of who is under center.