Mason Rudolph is returning to the Steelers starting lineup after exiting the team's Week 5 matchup against the Ravens in the third quarter with a concussion.
In that game, Rudolph completed a pass to James Washington but took a high hit to the jaw from Ravens safety Earl Thomas, knocking him unconscious instantly. After a few tense moments on the field, Rudolph was able to walk off the field with support, but the injury kept him out of the team's Week 6 victory over the Chargers.
"I feel like [I could've played] because I'm a competitor and I like to feel like I know my body," Rudolph said Monday at the Rooney Complex. "But the thought process from the specialists was, 'If you take a lesser hit, you could be out for longer [and do more] damage.' You're just more vulnerable at that point, was the opinion of the specialist, so I didn't really have a choice. Obviously, I wanted to. I think I'll look back at this 10 years down the road and I'll be glad that I did sit out for a week, but I was not happy [at the time]."
Now, after the team's bye week, Rudoph is set to return for the Steelers' Oct. 28 Monday Night Football showdown against the Dolphins — and the opportunity couldn't come any sooner for him.
"I feel great," Rudolph said. "I checked all the boxes with the protocol situation and as frustrating as it was to have to sit out when I really felt ... I felt pretty close to normal, pretty fine, clear in the head. It was the best thing for my long-term health. We got a lot of specialists here, so I complied with their thoughts."
"I know it killed him not to be out there this past week," Cam Heyward added at his locker.
Following the hit, Thomas said he sent Rudolph a text to apologize and to let him know the hit was not intentional or malicious. However, Thomas said, he never heard back.
"I shot him a text, [but] I didn't hear back," Thomas said.
This led many to believe Rudolph felt some animosity after the play, but Rudolph stepped in Monday to clarify.
He did not leave Thomas on "read."
"I don't know, maybe there was a miscommunication, but I responded to him," Rudolph said. "Justice Hill, a running back from Oklahoma State [now playing for the Ravens], I made sure Justice knew that I did respond to him and I appreciate him reaching out and doing the classy thing."
While the hit is in Rudolph's past and he'll be expected to lead the Steelers at full force moving forward, he did say he revisited the play to see what happened. He couldn't remember the play itself, and he said it wasn't until he returned to the locker room that his memory started coming back.
"I watched it," Rudolph said. "It was a freak thing, the way he hit my jaw. My jaw was really never sore, the way my head kind of torqued really quick. The specialist said it kind of shut off my brain's like, not my spinal cord ... It shut me off real quick. It was the sweet spot, shut me out black, and I've probably been hit like that many times and that's never happened. Kind of a weird deal ...
"I remember once I got up in the locker room, I started to kind of have a little bit of short-term memory. But it all started to come back not long after when I started to refresh myself ... I did not remember the play at all. Everything before the play and after the play [I did]. It was weird. I had to kind of go back and ask the coach, 'What was the play call?' because for some reason just that play, it was kind of blank. But everything before and after was clear as day."
And that whole cart situation? Yeah, Rudolph saw all the jokes online — but he insists he didn't want or need the assistance anyway.
"I didn't wave them [the cart] off," Rudolph said. "When I was on the ground, they made me move my arms and legs and make sure I didn't have any type of spinal cord injury. I guess there were plenty of memes about the cart not working, but I wouldn't have needed to be in the cart because I passed all the tests on the ground. I would've walked out regardless of whether the cart was operational."
While the Steelers notched a win with Devlin Hodges starting in his absence, it's back to Rudolph for these struggling 2-4 Steelers. Rudolph has appeared in four games this season — three starts — while posting 646 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions with a 67 percent completion percentage (102.5 quarterback rating), but good only for a 1-2 record in those games.
Rudolph believes there are plenty of opportunities left on the table for this offense to seize.
"I think we got a great plan, man. I think we had a great plan in the last few weeks," Rudolph said. "I think you take what the defense gives you, and I'm always an aggressive guy. I want to take the ball down the field, push the ball down the field and take shots. But I think you gotta take what's available. If that's a checkdown or if that's a go ball, that's what's available and that's what you gotta do. But I'm going to be aggressive and I'm going to keep continuing to try to, yes, we need to open up the offense a little bit, but we also don't need to force balls down the field that don't need to be forced when there's someone sitting right there."
And when he takes the field against the Dolphins in primetime, will he be thinking about that hit from Thomas?
Not a chance.
"You can't play when you're looking over your shoulder," Rudolph said. "I'm not going to think twice about it. I'm going to go play the game that I've always played and play with the aggressiveness and, if I need to extend the play, that's what's going to happen. I'm not going to think twice about worrying about getting hit in the right spot. That's just the luck of the draw. It happens, freak thing, and I'm going to move on from it."
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