Ben Roethlisberger will not play in Pittsburgh's Week 17 game against Cleveland, and backup Mason Rudolph will take his place, coach Mike Tomlin announced Tuesday. Roethlisberger and other unnamed key starters will not play in a contest the 10-5 Browns must win in order to reach the playoffs.
Tomlin added he prefers to "air mail" important players into the playoffs with a berth already secured when possible, though the "vast majority of guys that have been playing will be playing."
Quarterback is, of course, the most important position in the sport, and Rudolph isn't exactly a future Hall of Famer like the person he's replacing. While he owns a 5-3 record as a starter, Rudolph has completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 1,765 yards, 13 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 82, proving to be unremarkable at best.
There's also some history here. Last season, with Pittsburgh wading through the endless waters of a life without Roethlisberger, the Steelers traveled to Cleveland for a Week 11 Thursday night meeting with the Browns. That game ended up a 21-7 win for Cleveland, but not before Rudolph and Browns defensive end Myles Garrett sparked a brawl that saw Garrett hit a charging Rudolph with his own helmet. Garrett was suspended for the remainder of the season before being reinstated in the offseason, the Browns limped to a 6-10 finish and Pittsburgh managed to salvage its season with a final mark of 8-8.
Both the Browns and Steelers will likely say all of the right things this week -- we left that in the past -- and the Browns won't need any additional motivation, seeing as they must win to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002. That season, they lost to the Steelers in a wild-card shootout after sneaking into the postseason on the final Sunday of the season.
If they can beat Pittsburgh, they very well could set themselves up for a rematch on Wild Card Weekend -- a game in which Roethlisberger would certainly be participating. As for Week 17, he's taking a seat, with Tomlin choosing preservation of health over taking his best chance to beat a division rival, explaining the possibility of a rematch "does not factor in whatsoever" in his decision.
"Motivations, intentions and all of those things, you know that's good water-cooler fodder, and I get it," Tomlin said when asked about potential motivation to knock the Browns out of the postseason with a Week 17 win. "But again this is a scheduled game. Our business is to win. We're going to prepare with that mindset. That will be unchanged in terms of how we approach it."
Pittsburgh slogged through the last month with an offense that appeared to be very broken, only to lift itself off the mat Sunday, erasing a 24-7 deficit in a furious second-half comeback that saw the Steelers score 21 unanswered in a 28-24 win. It was the first time Roethlisberger looked like himself in a month or longer, and might have helped convince Tomlin to rest his starter.
Still, Pittsburgh needs to establish consistency when possessing the ball. They'll attempt to do so with Rudolph under center. If they can well enough, it could spell an end to Cleveland's hopes -- but if the Browns can't beat Rudolph at home with a postseason berth on the line, they don't deserve to be there, anyway.