A lot of people expected Mason Rudolph to be the backup quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. Perhaps nobody aside from himself thought that the player Rudolph is backing up would be Devlin Hodges.
That fantasy could become reality next week for the Steelers. Head coach Mike Tomlin pulled Rudolph one drive into the second half yesterday, plugging in Hodges, who proceeded to lead the team to a comeback victory. They scored just three points in the first half, and 13 in the second half with Hodges in the game.
Though Hodges said that there had been nothing said to him during the week about the possibility of Rudolph being pulled, one has to wonder if the same was also true for Rudolph. I’m thinking probably not. But either way, he showed good sportsmanship.
“Mason was there helping me out, being supportive. I’ve told you all before, me and Mason are boys. He was there helping me out”, Hodges told reporters after the game. After he couldn’t, and wouldn’t recount specific examples of conversations they may have had, he simply said he was “just being a guy on the team that plays the position, just talking about football”.
Rudolph was a mid-third-round pick by the Steelers in 2018. They traded up a couple of spots even to get him, though they took the uncharacteristic step after the draft of saying that they actually had a first-round grade on him, and even that he would have been a first-round consideration for them had they really been looking for a quarterback.
A year later, he could his chance to start with Ben Roethlisberger sidelined for all but six quarters in the year, but his window of opportunity may have been closed by his ugly performances of the past two games, and of the play of his ‘guy’, Hodges, who has looked more comfortable, more decisive, and more dangerous.
This isn’t about who is playing better at quarterback right now, though. This is about the sort of person Rudolph showed himself to be, being able to remain engaged after getting yanked from the game, even amidst probably one of the most trying times of his life, both professionally and personally.
Tomlin also made note of this during his post-game press conference. “I like the contributions of Duck. I like his readiness”, he said, adding, “I appreciate the efforts of Mason, and I also appreciate the support of Mason after we made the change. It’s how we get down”.
It’s been a while, quite frankly, since the Steelers last pulled a quarterback due purely to performance. I honestly cannot recall a time off the top of my head. I don’t know that it’s happened since Roethlisberger’s been in Pittsburgh, in the middle of a game.
No matter what else be said, that can’t be an easy situation to process, but Rudolph handled that well. He might not have handled the game itself nearly so well, and if he did, he would have avoided this situation. But we are where we are now. There’s no going back.