SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- History could be working against the Steelers this week.
Not only are they breaking in a new starting quarterback, they're doing so in a game on the West Coast, which might as well be the Bermuda Triangle for the Steelers.
Plenty of good Steelers teams have headed west, only to find themselves lost -- or at least with another loss added to their ledger.
The Steelers are just 26-49-1 when playing outside of the Eastern Time Zone since the 1970 merger. Overall, they're 19-39 in franchise history on the West Coast, dating back to the first game they played there in 1941 against the Los Angeles Rams.
When you add in their record when breaking in a first-time starting quarterback -- 4-19-1 in franchise history -- it doesn't bode well for the team heading on the road to play the undefeated 49ers Sunday at Levi's Stadium. The last came in 2004, when Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers went into Miami and beat the Dolphins in a hurricane, 13-3.
But they're 5-5 in San Francisco, with two of those losses coming prior to 1970. Since then, they're 5-3 against the 49ers on the road, though they have lost their past two trips -- in 2003 and 2011.
That's a lot of history working against them.
So it's not a surprise Mason Rudolph's main goal in his first career start in place of injured Ben Roethlisberger will involve the KISS method. Keep It Simple Stupid.
And more importantly, "I want to win," he said. "There's a lot of things I want to do but winning is the biggest goal to get us back on track."
The Steelers (0-2) won't make any concessions for Rudolph in his first career start. Their expectation regarding his level of play is high.
But they will make some concessions about a second-year player replacing a future Hall of Fame quarterback. They didn't last week, either, when Rudolph replaced Roethlisberger in the second half of a 28-26 loss to the Seahawks and threw for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
"He got a chance to have a whole half and a chance to prepare this week," Randy Fichtner said. "This will be a new week for him. It is different than last week’s situation. But we are not addressing anything different from the standpoint of preparation because he [knew] that preparation last week had to be the same. All of a sudden, he had a fire lit under his butt, ‘Oh man, I am the starter now.’"
That's the reality. The other is that lack of success by the Steelers on the West Coast, including a 1-5 record in such games under Mike Tomlin.
To shake things up and try something different, Tomlin had the team leave earlier than usual -- 8:30 a.m. Saturday -- to keep the team on an East Coast schedule.
"We’re going to get up and go on Saturday morning and kind of operate on an East Coast time, in an effort to get a fluid night’s rest and be ready to play on what will be a 4:25 East Coast time kickoff on Sunday," Tomlin said earlier this week.
Maybe they can trick their bodies. But they can't trick themselves into believing Roethlisberger is going to come riding back in to save this season. In that respect, it's in Mason they trust.
"Ben’s talent level, obviously, he is what he is, a Hall-of-Famer," Vance McDonald said. "But Mason can come in and we can still operate, and we can still execute on offense and move the ball and score and win. That doesn’t change for me."
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