It took 33 games, but Bruce Gradkowski finally got a chance to throw a meaningful pass in a game for his hometown team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. It wasn’t the most ideal of circumstances, but in a way, perhaps, it was somewhat encouraging to see.
Gradkowski, of course, had to come onto the field for a few plays late in the Steelers’ Wildcard loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was only the second game outside of the preseason in which he played during his two years with the Steelers.
That is actually quite an anomaly considering the history of Ben Roethlisberger’s tenure as the starting quarterback over the past 11 seasons. He only played in all 16 games one time prior to the last two seasons, when the Steelers signed Gradkowski, so it’s somewhat of a surprise that the backup quarterback hasn’t had more of a job to do on game days.
Roethlisberger was, in fact, the only player on offense all season in 2013 who played every single snap of the year. Gradkowski didn’t see a single snap for the entire season. it wasn’t until the third game of 2014 in which he finally saw the field in a meaningful game, but it wasn’t very meaningful playing time.
This was the game against the Carolina Panthers in which the Steelers used a second half offensive explosion to blow out the eventual division winners. With the game well in hand, the Steelers chose to sit Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey for the final drive, which lasted seven plays, all of which were handoffs.
That was the full extent of his meaningful playing time with the Steelers throughout his two regular seasons, up until midway through the fourth quarter of the team’s first playoff game in three years.
Roethlisberger was injured with under five minutes to go in the game, one play after a touchdown pass was nullified by a penalty. He was brought down by Courtney Upshaw on a sack for a seven-yard loss, hitting his head on the grass in the process.
Enter Gradkowski, stepping into a pivotal moment with a third and 21 situation and the Steelers trailing by 15 points late in a playoff game. It was a huge moment for him to throw his first pass for the team, but he did deliver.
On the third down play, he completed an 18-yard pass to Heath Miller, and then converted on fourth down with a four-yard connection to Antonio Brown. He delivered a promising ball to Martavis Bryant in the far corner of the end zone, with pressure in his face, on the next play, but it fell incomplete.
Roethlisberger returned on the next snap and promptly threw an interception in the end zone. Gradkowski’s day was done with three throws, but, without having seen anything else in two yards, it did provide a small sliver of encouragement about the backup quarterback position going forward.