The road to the playoffs just got a bit easier for the Cleveland Browns. They started their week trying to bounce back from a loss at the hands of the dismal New York Jets, knowing they'd need to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers to land a seat in the tournament. As it turns out, however, it's no longer Ben Roethlisberger they'll need to batten down the hatches for. Head coach Mike Tomlin announced on Tuesday the team has decided to rest the 38-year-old when they visit Cleveland, naming backup quarterback Mason Rudolph as starter for the regular season finale.
The Steelers clinched the AFC North title thanks to a harrowing comeback win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16, and Tomlin notes he'll now "airmail" choice players to the playoffs. The impromptu bye week won't extend to everyone, however, but most certainly Roethlisberger -- whom the team wants at full strength for a potential run at the Super Bowl.
"The vast majority of guys that have been playing, will be playing," Tomlin added, per Andrew Siciliano of NFL Network.
For the Browns, it'll be another meeting with Rudolph, having defeated him in Cleveland in 2019 in a contest that will forever live in NFL infamy. Both Rudolph and All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett have moved on from the brawl, as have their teams, and the focus is now on the Browns trying to take advantage of an inexperienced Rudolph while Rudolph attempts to end the Browns' playoff hopes altogether.
In the aforementioned 2019 matchup, Rudolph threw for 221 yards but completed only 23 of 44 passes and racked up four interceptions to finish the day with a dismal 36.3 passer rating. He was also sacked four times and the Browns landed 12 QB hits on him. It won't get any easier for him this time around, and particularly with so much on the line for the Browns and nothing on the line for the Steelers except bragging rights and guaranteeing they don't see Cleveland again until 2021. Having lost two of their last four games, including one to the Jets, if the Browns fail to make the playoffs because they can't get past Rudolph -- many will argue they never deserved to be there in the first place.
So, oddly enough, there's even more pressure on head coach Kevin Stefanski to get it done, because a QB2 is what stands between him and the team's first playoff appearance since 2002.