Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Steelers rally behind Mason Rudolph but can’t stop Seahawks
The Pittsburgh Steelers had their starting quarterback, running back, inside linebacker and free safety sidelined with injuries for the second half against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
That should have been a recipe for disaster.
The Steelers just traded third-string quarterback Josh Dobbs to Jacksonville this past week, leaving only one healthy passer behind Ben Roethlisberger.
Instead, Mason Rudolph made an impressive NFL regular-season debut to rally the Steelers but was outdueled by Russell Wilson in the Seahawks’ 28-26 victory over the Steelers before a crowd of 65,063 in the home opener at Heinz Field.
1. Flagged: Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt forced his seventh fumble in the past 14 games, causing Seattle running back Chris Carson to lose one that bounced into inside linebacker Mark Barron’s hands at the Seattle 34.
As Barron raced toward the end zone for an apparent touchdown, Steelers free safety Sean Davis drew a flag for an illegal block in the back.
The Steelers scored anyway, on James Conner’s 1-yard run for a 7-0 lead at 14:44 of the second quarter, to let Davis off the hook.
It was a silly penalty, one that had nothing to do with the play and everything to do with undisciplined play. But that play set the tone for a game filled with stupid penalties.
Just when it looked like Davis made the boneheaded play, Daniel McCullers, Vance McDonald and DK Metcalf one-upped him.
2. Flagged again: McCullers went from making a big stop, combining with Cameron Hayward to drop Rashaad Penny for a 2-yard loss on third-and-1, to a costly penalty.
When Jason Myers kicked a 46-yard field goal, McCullers was called for a personal foul. Instead of cutting the Steelers’ lead to 7-3, the Seahawks got a first down at the 14. Russell Wilson threw a touchdown pass to tight end Will Dissly to tie the score, 7-7, with 8:40 left in the half.
That’s when McDonald made his mistake, drawing a pass interference penalty on a third-and-4 throw to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Instead of a first down, the Steelers had a third-and-14 at the 32 and settled for a Chris Boswell 41-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead.
Metcalf made the biggest gaffe in the final minute, when he drew not only a pass interference penalty but a personal foul for a facemask on cornerback Steve Nelson.
That pushed the Seahawks back to their own 49. A 9-yard pass to Tyler Lockett moved them to the 40, but Myers’ 58-yard field-goal attempt was wide left.
3. Donte drops: Rudolph relieved Roethlisberger to start the second half, only to show it wasn’t Big Ben’s throws that caused Donte Moncrief to drop passes.
The Steelers signed Moncrief to a free-agent deal with the expectation that he would be their No. 2 wide receiver, but he had a dubious debut with four dropped passes on 10 targets in the season opener at New England.
Moncrief refused to use a dislocated middle finger on his left hand as an excuse against the Patriots, it shouldn’t be allowed to serve as one if the Steelers give him a helmet.
On a third-and-8 from the Steelers’ 21, Rudolph passed to Moncrief. The ball ricocheted off Moncrief’s hands and into those of strong safety Bradley McDougald at the 40 near the visiting sideline.
The Seahawks took full advantage, as Wilson found Dissly for a 12-yard pass and another touchdown to take a 14-10 lead at 9:49 of the third quarter.
It should be no surprise Moncrief spent the rest of the game stranded on the sideline.
4. Rudolph rallies: Aside from almost getting James Conner and Ryan Switzer decapitated on flares in the flat, Rudolph showed poise in his first NFL action.
On a flea-flicker, Rudolph threw a deep pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 45-yard gain to the Seattle 16, and the Steelers cut it to 14-13 on a 33-yard field goal by Boswell.
After Rashaad Penny’s 37-yard touchdown run gave the Seahawks a 21-13 lead, Rudolph led the Steelers on a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
The best play was a catch by rookie Diontae Johnson, who came back to the ball for a 17-yard grab. On third-and-5 at the Seattle 26, Rudolph scrambled for a first down. Then he threw a sidearm pass to McDonald for 8 yards for his first career touchdown pass to cut it to 21-19 with 11:16 left.
But the Steelers went for a two-point conversion, and safety Lano Hill picked off Rudolph’s pass in the back of the end zone to preserve Seattle’s lead.
5. Upon review: After the Seahawks were penalized for a false start and holding on back-to-back plays, the Steelers had them right where they wanted them.
But, on a second-and-20 at the 27, Wilson threw deep to Lockett over the middle. Free safety Kameron Kelly had his back to the Seahawks receiver but strong safety Terrell Edmunds came over the top to help.
When it was ruled incomplete on the field, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll challenged the call. Upon review, the Steelers were assessed a 38-yard pass interference penalty on Edmunds and Seattle got the ball at the 35. Three plays later, Metcalf beat Edmunds for a 28-yard touchdown to give the Seahawks a 28-19 lead with 7:15 remaining.
But the Steelers got a break when Carson fumbled at his own 11 and rookie linebacker Devin Bush recovered. Bush initially ran about 7 yards in the wrong direction before circling back toward the end zone. He dived for the pylon but was ruled out at the 3.
A review upheld that call, but no matter: Rudolph threw a 3-yard dart to McDonald for a touchdown on the next play, cutting Seattle’s lead to 28-26 with 5:34 remaining.
But the Steelers couldn’t contain Wilson, who ran quarterback draws for gains of 10 and 15 yards to force a fourth-and-1 at the Pittsburgh 33. The Steelers needed a stop, but Carson held onto the ball on a 2-yard run to put the finishing touches on the game.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .