The Pittsburgh Steelers will be without their second starting quarterback of the season on Sunday, and it comes as a direct result of a hit from Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas, which led to a scary moment in the team’s last game as teammates watched Mason Rudolph lie prone and unconscious for several minutes.
Rudolph was making his third career start due to the season-ending elbow injury that put Ben Roethlisberger on the Reserve/Injured List after the second game of the year. Rudolph has as of yet been unable to clear the concussion protocol as a result of that hit from Thomas, which means that rookie undrafted free agent Devlin Hodges will start—and Paxton Lynch will dress as his backup.
Neither quarterback was on the 53-man roster or the practice squad at the start of the season.
The veteran safety was penalized for roughing the passer on that play, and later in the week confirmed that he was indeed fined for the illegal hit. He told Jamison Hensley that he reached out to Rudolph about the hit during the week, but did not hear from the quarterback in return.
“I wanted him to know that I didn’t do it on purpose”, Thomas said. “That’s all I wanted him to know”. After the game on Sunday, he said that he was “worried” about Rudolph, that he heard that he had been transferred to a nearby hospital, and that “my prayers go out to him and his family”.
But he also defended the hit, saying that he “hit the strike zone” and “didn’t go high”, despite it being a helmet hit. He called it a “football play” that “wasn’t dirty” and was hoping that he would not be fined for the play, even expressing initial surprise that he was ultimately flagged. Perhaps he had not yet at that time seen a replay of the hit.
It shouldn’t exactly be a surprise if Rudolph did not respond to whatever sort of message Thomas approached him with. After all, he is still dealing with a concussion and is in the protocol. There is a reason that players in the protocol are not permitted to formally even speak with the media.
Still, it’s certainly not a bad gesture on Thomas’ part to reach out. While I think he and his coach went over the top in walking back the severity of the hit, there is no indication that there was malice in his actions, and there was no grounds for the calls for a suspension that we saw from some fans.
The Steelers and Ravens do not play again until the season finale. It will be interesting to see where the two teams stand at that point. Pittsburgh is idling at 1-4 while the Ravens are 3-2 but looking rather vulnerable as they approach a more difficult portion of their schedule.