If you were searching for a ringing endorsement of Devlin Hodges, then Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner was not prepared to oblige, at least not during his segment on The Fan yesterday. Though he was not on the field due to a shoulder injury that kept him out of the game, when asked about Hodges providing a spark for the offense, he downplayed the quarterback’s role in that.
“I really don’t know what to think”, he told his host in reference to the rookie quarterback’s ability to turn things around for the unit. “Devlin came in and he made a good pass, but James, James did most of the work. He caught that ball and he used his feet, and then throwing that stiff arm”.
He is referring not to himself, of course, but to second-year wide receiver James Washington, who made so far the biggest play of his career on the third play from scrimmage for Hodges. He caught a pass and turned it into a 79-yard touchdown with his run after the catch, which included an effective stiff arm on cornerback B.W. Webb that sent him tumbling to the ground.
“Football is the ultimate team game”, Conner said. “Devlin can’t get that ball off without our line protecting, James running that route, and getting YAC after he caught it. It’s kind of like, whatever Coach says, whatever his decision, Devlin provided a spark, but multiple guys gave us that spark”.
Mason Rudolph had been almost wholly ineffective during the game for the Steelers through the first half, plus one especially inept drive to begin the second half, which ended with an awful pass on third down that landed not even at the feet of Diontae Johnson.
That provided all the foreground Mike Tomlin needed to give him the yank, taking him out of the game and inserting Hodges, who would inherit a 7-3 deficit. The Steelers would score 13 points in the second half with Hodges, with the Cincinnati Bengals only able to add another field goal.
To be clear, I don’t think by any means that Conner’s intention was to denigrate the rookie, but rather to make it clear that it was a total offensive effort that turned the game around. He was asked if he was excited by the spark that Hodges provided, but he wanted the credit for that spark to be spread around, especially to Washington, who made one of the Steelers’ top plays of the season.
“That’s how I felt excited about it”, he said.
Whoever is under center Sunday, he won’t be handing off to Conner, most likely, whose shoulder injury is proving to be more of an issue than he wanted to believe. He said to his hosts that it’s going to take more time, and at this point probably multiple more weeks, before he is able to return, in order to avoid surgery through reinjury.