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Steelers’ future depends on Mason Rudolph

Daniel Jones and Kyle Allen have been the talk of the town this week in the NFL.

Mason Rudolph?

Not so much.

Jones, chosen with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft, led the Giants from an 18-point halftime deficit Sunday to a 32-31 win in Tampa Bay, completing 23 of 36 passes for 336 yards with two touchdown passes and two rushing touchdowns.

Allen, who went undrafted in 2018, completed 19 of 26 passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns in his second career start Sunday as the visiting Panthers defeated the Cardinals 38-20.

Rudolph, like Allen a second-year player, went 14-for-27 for 174 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the Steelers’ 24-20 loss at San Francisco.

Why can’t Rudolph be more like Jones and Allen, Steelers fans might ask?

Well, how do we know he’s not? He’s played just a game and a half while Jones has played in one game and mopped up in another and Allen has played in three games.

The Steelers, who drafted Rudolph in the third round last year with the 76th pick, certainly believe in him. If they didn’t they wouldn’t have traded next year’s first-round pick, which has the potential to be very high, to the Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

By making that trade after Ben Roethlisberger went down for the season, the Steelers (0-3) took themselves out of the market for an elite quarterback like Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert or Jake Fromm in next year’s draft.

This means that the organization is in trouble if Rudolph flops as the starter this season. He doesn’t have to create a quarterback controversy. He just has to show enough for the Steelers to feel confident that he can succeed Roethlisberger in three or so years.

So far, Rudolph hasn’t done that, although he faced a tougher defense Sunday than both Jones and Allen. The Buccaneers have the 21st-ranked passing defense in the NFL and the Cardinals are 24th. The 49ers are seventh.

Rudolph has completed 26 of the first 46 NFL passes he’s thrown for 286 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He completed 12 of 19 passes with two touchdowns and an interception after replacing Roethlisberger against the Seahawks in Week 2.

Those numbers aren’t too far off from Roethlisberger’s in his first game and a half. Roethlisberger completed 12 of 20 for 176 yards with two touchdowns and two picks after he replaced Tommy Maddox in Week 2 of the 2004 season. After helping the Steelers win 13-3 at Miami in Week 3, Roethlisberger’s nascent career numbers were 24-of-42 for 339 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Other quarterbacks have gone on to successful careers after underwhelming starts similar to Rudolph’s.

Tom Brady completed just 31 of his first 60 career passes and he didn’t throw his first touchdown pass until his third career start in 2001. He won the first of his six Super Bowl rings that year, but he still didn’t do enough to convince everyone that he was the Patriots’ franchise quarterback. Believe it or not there were still some chowdaheads in New England who thought that Drew Bledsoe should be the Patriots’ starter heading into 2002.

Dak Prescott, a fourth-rounder drafted 135th overall by the Cowboys in 2016, completed just 25 of his first 45 passes and didn’t throw a touchdown until his third start.

Even Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions in his rookie season. The Colts went 3-13 that year, but Manning became a Pro Bowler in 1999 and led the Colts to a 13-3 mark.

Roethlisberger, Brady and Prescott all made the playoffs in their first season as starters. None of them had to turn around an 0-3 season, however.

Rudolph can turn that 0-3 into a more manageable 1-3 if he can lead the Steelers past the winless Bengals Monday night in Pittsburgh. Cincinnati has yielded the ninth-highest passer rating in the NFL (110.3). The 49ers, by the way, have allowed a 72.7 rating. That’s the fourth-lowest in the league.

If the Steelers win Monday, things would get interesting with the Ravens coming to Heinz Field in Week 5. If the Steelers can get to 2-3, they would be within striking distance of the Ravens in a winnable AFC North.

But it’s too early to think about Week 5, just like it’s too early to anoint Jones and Allen franchise saviors and Rudolph a bust.

This is the NFL, and from week to week the narrative can change quickly.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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