Win and the Browns finish with 11 wins for the first time since 1994 and earn their first playoff appearance since 2002. Lose and, well, let’s not go there.
If the situation was not already hot enough, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin threw a wee bit more fuel on the fire Tuesday by announcing he will start Mason Rudolph at quarterback to give Ben Roethlisberger a week off to prepare for the playoffs.
In today’s press conference, Coach Tomlin said Mason Rudolph will start at quarterback for our Week 17 game against Cleveland. pic.twitter.com/PKAVvbS6TD— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 29, 2020
The Browns last faced Rudolph on November 14, 2019, when they beat the Steelers by a score of 21-7. In that game, Rudolph threw four interceptions, posted a quarterback rating of 36.3, and was sacked four times.
Two of those sacks came on consecutive plays near the end of the game as the Steelers made the futile decision to continue passing the ball despite being down 14 points with just a little more than a minute to play.
That string of events led to Rudolph throwing a hissy fit after being tackled by defensive end Myles Garrett after an incomplete pass on third-and-29 from Pittsburgh’s 17-yard line. Rudolph reacted to that by pulling at Garrett’s helmet and kicking at him. The situation was calming down when Rudolph decided to charge at Garrett, with Garrett then hitting Rudolph over the head with his own helmet and Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey repeatedly kicking Garrett in the head while he was pinned to the ground.
The aftermath saw Garrett suspended for the final six games of the season, Cleveland defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and Pouncey receiving suspensions, Rudolph being fined, and both franchises being fined $250,000.
Tomlin’s decision to start Rudolph now gives the Browns defense another chance to make life miserable for Pittsburgh’s backup quarterback, and adds another level of excitement to a game that was already reaching maximum importance.