The 2019 season was unlike anything Mike Tomlin has ever been through. I’m really not sure how many times a team has had multiple backup quarterbacks start at least six games in a single season in the history of the NFL, to be quite honest.
But it’s one of those things where you’re not thinking about too closely when it’s happening because, quite frankly, you can’t afford to. If you’re wasting time contemplating the implications of being down to a rookie undrafted free agent as your starting quarterback, then you’re not focusing enough on the task that those circumstances present you with.
The Pittsburgh Steelers somehow managed to go 8-6 last season with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges starting. Neither of them were particularly good, though each had their highlights. Rudolph, for example, threw multiple touchdowns in four of his first five games.
Tomlin sat down with John Calipari yesterday to talk (which is not yet posted on YouTube as of the time of this writing) about a variety of topics as two men toward the top of their professions, and at one point Calipari was interested in hearing Tomlin’s perspective about going through the situation of the 2019 season at quarterback.
“I think for me, when you’re in those tough circumstances, you just don’t try to look at too many big-picture things”, he said. “I was just trying to get out of each and every stadium every week. And so it was, ‘what do we need to do with this collection of men that we have available to us to beat this group we’re about to play?’. And that was it”.
The most stressful aspect of the situation was the sheer inexperience of his two quarterbacks. Rudolph had a season under his belt, but as the third quarterback, and he never got on the field. Hodges was an undrafted rookie who didn’t even make the initial 53-man roster. Each week he had to balance preparing Rudolph to start while educating Hodges.
So we lived like that for some time, and we were able to win some of those games. Not enough to get into the party, but I thought we put ourselves in position to be a group” that could contend for that, he said.
“We just ran out of gas there down the stretch, but I appreciate the efforts of the guys”, he added. “How about the young guy, Duck, and guys like that, living out their dreams, and capturing the moments? It’s a cool thing to be a part of that and provide an opportunity for guys like that to rise up and do those things”.
It was cool, even though many have now turned their backs on somebody who was a fan favorite, after he struggled down the stretch, his play over the final three weeks directly playing a key role in their failure to advance to the postseason.
I’m sure Tomlin has second- and third-guessed himself to death about how things could have gone differently during that time, but it’s water under the bridge. Now is the time to look at that bigger picture and see the past year for what it was. A luxury he couldn’t afford while he was going through that process.