Pittsburgh Steelers lose game, lose quarterback, close to losing season
The Pittsburgh Steelers had a chance to beat the Baltimore Ravens at home and put themselves right back in the AFC North playoff race, despite losing quarterback Mason Rudolph to an injury. They forced the Ravens into a game tying field goal to send it to overtime before a Juju Smith-Schuster fumble forced and recovered by Marlon Humphrey on a terrific play led to their field goal that won the game.
The Steelers had every excuse to lay down and lose this game when Rudolph went down, but they fought to the bitter end and had a chance to win it. The difference between 2-3 and 1-4 is massive. One has them with a key win against a divisional opponent, putting themselves back in the division race. The other has them 1-4 having to go on the road to play the Los Angeles Chargers with their season on the brink of disaster.
When Ben Roethlisberger went down for the year with the elbow injury and resulting surgery, the Steelers doubled down on their season in trading their 2020 first round pick to the Miami Dolphins for Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is a nice player, but the expectation was the Steelers would continue to be competitive.
Five games into the season, their lone win is against the now 0-5 Cincinnati Bengals. They have played tough in a few games, but they simply don't have enough, particularly on offense to win with any consistency. To this point, they have the feel of a team trying to get an upset as opposed to get things right and ready to play good football.
The front office signaled their belief in second year quarterback Mason Rudolph and his potential to be the heir apparent to Roethlisberger, who plans to play a few more seasons. So even if they were losing, they could at least continue to develop Rudolph, getting him valuable game reps.
Now, they have to wait to find out how long he is out after being knocked out after taking a helmet to the chin from Earl Thomas. The early moments after the hit were scary as Rudolph lay unconscious. He ultimately regained consciousness and was helped off the field in a moment that looked like a boxing match where the opponent caught him with an uppercut to the chin and knocked him out cold.
Rudolph was diagnosed with a concussion and ultimately moved to a nearby hospital for observation, which is precautionary. Hopefully a concussion and a "lucky punch" is all it ends up being, but he's likely out next week against the Chargers at least.
That means the Steelers face the real prospect of coming back home to take on the Dolphins who own their draft pick with a 1-5 record. That's a game they should win, since the Dolphins have made it clear it's in their best interest to lose, but after that, the number of games where the Steelers can make up ground and get back in the division are relatively few in number.
Having given up some key draft assets, there is no incentive to lose and yet that's where they may find themselves. They could finish with only a handful of wins and watch the Dolphins make a top five to ten pick in the 2020 NFL Draft with the Steelers already having made their biggest move of the upcoming offseason in this year.
Obviously the Steelers are a completely different team with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, but they have real issues and they don't have a lot of options to address them. Minkah Fitzpatrick will likely continue to be a nice player for that defense, but the questions about the wisdom of that move will increase as the losses add up, especially as they look firmly behind the Ravens and Cleveland Browns both now and in the future.
The Steelers have less draft assets and their salary cap is in far worse shape than either the Browns or the Ravens. They find themselves in the awkward position of trying to play catch up with fewer resources at their disposal.