It’s not overselling it to say that, up to this point, tomorrow’s game is the most important of the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They find themselves entering the game in a four-way tie for the second and final wildcard spot, and facing a divisional opponent on a hot streak who has already beaten them and is only one game behind.
The Steelers cannot afford to drop this one to the Cleveland Browns. And, amazing as it sounds, that’s why they are turning to college free agent rookie Devlin Hodges to man the quarterback position, opting for the Samford product over Mason Rudolph, the second-year guy who has started most of the year, on whom they had a first-round draft grade.
Hodges, whom the Steelers didn’t sign until after he was invited to their rookie minicamp and outperformed Brogan Roback to become their fourth arm, has only played in three games this season, including one start in Week Six against the Los Angeles Chargers, which they won.
Head coach Mike Tomlin elected to pull Rudolph one drive into the second half on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, replacing him with Hodges, and while he didn’t light things up from that point on, the offense put up 13 points, which was enough for a win.
Now he’s being chosen by performance to start, and the decision is being made precisely because the stakes are high. The Steelers are fighting tooth and nail to keep themselves in position to make the postseason, and they know that Rudolph at least needs a week off as he works through some things.
That puts a lot of pressure on Hodges, but it doesn’t seem to really affect him or his approach. As he told reporters earlier this week, “I don’t ever want to change who I am. I want to go out there and have fun, compete, play hard and do whatever it takes to get the win each and every week. I am not looking ahead at anything, we are just worried about this week and playing the Browns”.
Tomlin would have never considered this move if he didn’t have the backing of the locker room, but this group has been behind Hodges for a long time. Even Roethlisberger early on talked about how cool it was to see an undrafted guy come in and sling the ball around.
The 6’1” champion duck caller enters this game with everything to prove, but also nothing to lose. Playing with house money, he’s not feeling the pressure the way many others would in his shoes. And hopefully, that will serve him quite well.