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Brissett’s success a surprise to most

PITTSBURGH — Jacoby Brissett has been in Mason Rudolph’s spot before. Several times actually.

The Indianapolis Colts quarterback knows what it’s like to step in for the face of the franchise. He did it for Tom Brady in New England in 2016. He did it again for Andrew Luck when he arrived in Indianapolis two years ago.

When Luck stunned his teammates and the rest of the league by announcing his retirement near the end of training camp , the player best prepared to absorb the news is the one who has the Colts (5-2) in first place heading into today’s visit to Pittsburgh (3-4), where Mason Rudolph is starting to find his footing while filling in for the injured Ben Roethlisberger.

Fast forward two months, and the anxiety of August has turned into quiet optimism as November opens. Brissett is rolling. The Colts are atop the AFC South. And no one is asking about Luck anymore.

“No one views him as a backup going in for a guy,” Indianapolis coach Frank Reich said. “This is Jacoby’s team.”

The Steelers aren’t quite there with Rudolph, partly because Roethlisberger firmly intends to return in 2020 after undergoing season-ending elbow surgery in September.

Still, there were signs during last week’s comeback victory over the winless Dolphins that Rudolph can be more than a caretaker. After a shaky start in his first action since getting knocked unconscious against Baltimore on Oct. 6, Rudolph threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns, his confidence growing with each series.

“We didn’t need to see that. We’ve been working with him now going on a couple of years, and that’s just kind of in his DNA,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “That’s one of the reasons why the guys rallied around him and believe in him.”

It’s a belief Pittsburgh will need to build on if it wants to entertain any thoughts of chasing down front-running Baltimore in the AFC North. The efficient Colts present a far more formidable challenge than Miami. Yet the Steelers believe they’ve already endured the worst of what 2019 has to offer. The metaphorical train Tomlin talks about as a symbol of the season is picking up steam. Tomlin’s players believe they are too.

“One guy doesn’t define a team,” safety Terrell Edmunds said. “We’re also on that same path (as Indianapolis). We started slow at the beginning of the year but we’re turning it around one game at a time. We’ll get to where we want to go.”

Pittsburgh running back James Conner put together his best game in a year against the Dolphins, running for 145 yards on 23 carries. That 23rd carry, however, came at a cost. He injured his shoulder and his status against the Colts is uncertain at best. If he can’t go, Jaylen Samuels will take over in the backfield. Samuels hasn’t played since undergoing knee surgery on Oct. 7.

“We got the depth in the running back room to handle the situation we’re going through,” Samuels said. “I believe in everybody. I believe in this team, the O-line, the coaches. If we all just believe in each other and execute, we’ll be good.”

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