Mason Rudolph is not Ben Roethlisberger.

Heading into this week’s AFC North matchup against the Bengals, that fact was no secret. He was a 24-year-old, second-year quarterback with just one start under his belt. He was a conservative passer with just two completions thrown for more than one yard behind the line of scrimmage. He was shaky. He was raw. He was new. And with the Steelers sitting at 0–3 to start the season, there was no point in denying it.

But despite the slips and falls Rudolph took during the losses to Seattle and San Francisco, Pittsburgh entered Week 4 believing he could also be something else. Obsessed with preparation as much as game day, the Steelers knew their 6’5” backup had the potential to emerge as a team leader. Rudolph had all of the off-the-field qualities of a starting quarterback.

And in a dominant 27–3 win over the Bengals on Monday night, he finally started playing like one, too.

Making his second straight start for the injured Roethlisberger, Rudolph was efficient throughout the night, completing 24 of his 28 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns to pick up his first career win. It didn’t matter that his passes rarely traveled more than 10 yards down the field. With James Conner and Jaylen Samuels in the backfield, he didn’t need to. The two running backs utilized jet sweeps and unleashed the Wildcat to combine for more than 200 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns, wreaking havoc on the Bengals’ defensive front.

When Rudolph finally did decide to air it out, he connected on a 43-yard heave to rookie Diontae Johnson midway through the third quarter for a score, putting the Steelers up 24–3 in effortless fashion.

Defensively, Pittsburgh was just as good, if not better. Rookie linebacker Devin Bush continued to shine, recording nine total tackles and his first career sack with a nine-yard takedown of Andy Dalton. The rest of the unit followed suit. By the night’s end, the Steelers had sacked Dalton a total of eight times, rendering Cincinnati’s offense utterly hopeless.

It may not have been pretty or exciting, and it certainly wasn’t the Steelers’ offense we’ve been used to, but it ended up being just enough. And while Pittsburgh will likely still try to expand the playbook with Rudolph under center as the season progresses, maybe it’s time to accept Monday night’s outing as the team’s new reality.

Maybe they don’t need the explosive plays that defined the essence of their offense for so long. Maybe they can rely on quick plays and marginal gains. Maybe they don’t need Mason Rudolph to be Ben Roethlisberger.

As long as they keep winning, the Steelers won’t complain.

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