Problem is, the talented right arms of Roethlisberger and Brees are out of service.
Roethlisberger, 37, needs surgery on his right elbow that will end his season after two games. Brees, 40, needs surgery on his right hand that will sideline him at least six weeks.
It’s a nightmare for the Steelers and Saints, who are built around their Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks and now move reluctantly to Plan B.
For Pittsburgh, that contingency is Mason Rudolph, a third-round pick in his second season out of Oklahoma State. He made his NFL debut in the second half of Sunday’s home loss to Seattle, completing 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the 28-26 defeat.
Rudolph makes his first start Sunday at San Francisco against a team that rolled over Tampa Bay and Cincinnati in the last two weeks.
“I’m not into the business of predicting the future,” Rudolph said when asked about the daunting challenge that awaits him. “You never know. You’ve just got to attack every day like it’s your last.”
Teddy Bridgewater is the new starter for New Orleans, perhaps the best backup in the league. He struggled against the Rams on Sunday after replacing Brees in the first quarter, but it was a rough day all around for the Saints. They lost a wideout in warmups, another during the game, and had to finish with quarterback Taysom Hill running routes as the third receiver.
The Saints are staying on the West Coast to prepare for Sunday’s game against Seattle, with the Seahawks 2-0 as well.
The Saints sent a third-round pick to Minnesota for Bridgewater last year, then re-signed him to a one-year deal worth at least $7.25 million.
“I felt real confident in Teddy — and do feel confident,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said in the wake of Sunday’s loss. “Listen, if you’re not playing well up front, I don’t care if it’s your Hall of Fame guy or your No. 3 guy. It’s going to be difficult.”
Age didn’t appear to be a factor in Brees’ injury. He was hurt when his hand collided with that of Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. It was like an unintentional and clearly excruciating high-five between the players.
“The thumb injury with Brees, I had that happen to me so many times, where you bang your hand,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, an NFL Network analyst. “For me, I didn’t suffer many major injuries, but I suffered a whole bunch to my hand. I broke my hand numerous times, [hurt] ligaments, all that stuff. It just happens. Unfortunately for him, it was worse. I don’t think it has anything to do with age.”
Medical experts say that Roethlisberger’s injury is likely an attritional problem as opposed to a traumatic one, the result of wear and tear on the elbow joint that could relate to the way a quarterback pronates when he spins the ball.
Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana had a similar surgery late in his career.
“I guess you don’t ever know when you’re a thrower,” Warner said. “I guess you always say there are only so many throws in your arm. But I look at [Tom] Brady and Brees, and I played until I was 38, and never really thought that was much of an issue.
“But what I will say is you don’t bounce back as quick when you get older. When you get banged up, it takes a little bit longer to heal.”
That could present problems for the Saints, who are hoping to have Brees back by midseason. For the Steelers, it’s onward with Rudolph, and next year for Roethlisberger at best.