In the closing moments of a 21-7 Week 11 loss to Cleveland, Rudolph got tangled up with Garrett on the ground before the Browns star yanked the Steelers quarterback's helmet off and subsequently hit him in the head with it. Garrett was suspended indefinitely, with the remainder of the 2019 regular season and postseason serving as the minimum punishment.
Garrett appealed his suspension and said Rudolph used a racial slur on the field, which caused him to respond aggressively. Rudolph denied the allegation, and the NFL upheld Garrett's suspension as it "found no such evidence" of a racial slur.
Rudolph told ESPN's Brooke Pryor in an interview published Thursday that Garrett's accusation has been hard not only on him, but on his entire family:
"I think that specific allegation, it affects my family. It's tough for them to see something so false be circulated about my family name. That's tough.
"But Coach [Mike] Tomlin talked about, when in the spotlight, you expect those types of things to be said and you've got to block it out and move on. And that's what I've done, and that's what I'll continue to do."
In his first game since the melee, Rudolph (8-of-16 passing, 85 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception) was benched after struggling during Pittsburgh's Week 12 clash with the winless Cincinnati Bengals. Undrafted free agent Devlin Hodges led the Steelers to a 16-10 victory in relief after entering the game in the third quarter.
Though he wants to play, the 24-year-old Rudolph made it clear to Pryor he is willing to be a team player:
"You handle it with a good attitude, with a team-first attitude. I can only control how I react and how hard I prepare, knowing that I'm one play away. I'm going to support the guy, knowing that this is a crazy game and you've got to be ready when your number is called. I will be ready, for sure."
The second-year pro also noted Tomlin told him the switch to Hodges was not a "final decision."
Getting benched is never easy for any player, but Rudolph pointed out he has experienced similar situations in the past and managed to persevere.
"I'd been benched once in college for a half and once in high school. So yeah, there's some past experiences you do draw from. I conquered that, and I think I'll conquer this the same way. Just going to be a matter of staying true to myself and believing in myself and staying in the fight."
Filling in for an injured Ben Roethlisberger, Rudolph has gone 5-3 in eight starts this season. He has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 1,636 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.