The Pittsburgh Steelers were faced with unanticipated and sudden adversity over the weekend when starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was diagnosed with COVID-19 the day before a game. While the timing could have been better, however, they were still prepared to move ahead with backup Mason Rudolph under center.
A key part of that equation is the fact that Roethlisberger routinely has Wednesday practices off, and typically has partial participation on Thursdays, in order to maintain his body throughout the season. Rudolph get the opportunity to work with the starting offense during those days, which this year includes rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth, who caught five of nine passes from Rudolph for 31 yards on Sunday.
“I think we have great chemistry. Obviously when Ben takes his vet days, Mason’s the quarterback, so I think we’ve developed that throughout practice and camp”, the second-round pick said on Wednesday. “Obviously, tough conditions in the game, but I think overall we have a great chemistry. We have a feel for what we’re gonna see and how we’re gonna read off that”.
Unfortunately, their most significant play of the day was the last, with Rudolph completing a short pass to Freiermuth, on which he was supposed to get out of bounds to help reduce the distance on a long potential game-winning field goal attempt. Instead, he fumbled the ball, resulting in the game being tied.
The rookie also dropped a pass earlier in the overtime period when he swung his head upfield too early on a ball thrown out to the flat, having failed to properly secure the ball first. It was just his second drop of the season, but at a costly moment.
Neither of those instances obviously have anything to do with a quarterback-receiver rapport; those are simply player errors on Freiermuth’s part. None of the other three incompletions the duo had revealed anything in terms of chemistry being amiss, either—more so, frankly, just bad throws.
The rookie did establish a great working relationship with Roethlisberger, from whom he caught 27 of 33 passes over the course of the first eight games of the season for 245 yards and four touchdowns, including three touchdowns over the previous two games. They were averaging 7.42 yards per target.