Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, whose team who trailed 7-3 at halftime, made the switch after watching Rudolph misfire on a third down pass on the Steelers‘ first drive of the second half. Three plays into the Steelers’ ensuing offensive possession, Tomlin watched as Hodges, an undrafted rookie who is affectionally known as “Duck,” complete what would later be regarded as the game-changing play.
“I looked pretty smart, didn’t I?” Tomlin said after the game with regard to Hodges’ touchdown pass to Washington. “It’s football. We’re not going to read too much into it. He made some plays, but you can’t take anything away from James Washington, what he did to produce that play after the catch and so forth. We’re just rolling together. You’ll make more out of Duck’s contributions than need be, so be it. It comes with the position. They get too much credit at times, they get too much blame at times. They all understand the nature of that, just like I understand the nature of criticisms that come with my position.”
Tomlin, at the start of his postgame presser, addressed his decision to bench Rudolph while not revealing who would start at quarterback for next Sunday’s game against the Browns, who improved to 5-6 after defeating the visiting Dolphins. Rudolph, a week after throwing four interceptions in Pittsburgh’s Week 11 loss in Cleveland, completed half of his 16 attempts Sunday for just 85 yards. He also threw a red zone interception to Bengals’ safety Shawn Williams before being replaced by Hodges, who went 5-of-11 for 118 yards in Sunday’s 16-10 win.
“Just felt like our offense needed a spark,” said Tomlin, whose team improved to 6-5 while moving back inside the AFC playoff picture. “Mason wasn’t doing enough. Duck came in and provided a spark, made a couple plays. We’ll see what next week holds. But I like the contributions of Duck. I like his readiness. I appreciate the efforts of Mason and also appreciate the support of Mason after we made the change. That’s how we get down.”
Tomlin acknowledged that Rudolph endured a “tough week” after Myles Garrett, the Browns’ pass rusher who has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL after hitting Rudolph in the head with his own helmet in Week 11, accused Rudolph of calling him a racist slur during the altercation. Rudolph, who was fined $50,000 by the NFL for his role in the altercation, has vehemently denied Garrett’s accusation. The NFL has stated that they did not find any evidence to support Garrett’s claim.
Tomlin would not, however, speculate on whether or not Rudolph’s off-field distractions played in role in his struggles in Cincinnati. Tomlin added that Rudolph was not on a short leash heading into Sunday’s game.
“I don’t prepare for failure in that way,” Tomlin said. “I don’t. I prepare for success. But like you guys hear me say all the time, I always got a hard core plan but I’m light on my feet in case necessary adjustments are made in any element of play. We did what we thought was necessary to win this game.”
Regardless of who is at quarterback next week, the Steelers are hoping to get back James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who missed Sunday’s game due to injuries. While the Steelers’ offense surely missed both playmakers on Sunday, they did receive an inspired effort from rookie running back Benny Snell, who rushed for 98 yards on 21 carries that included several big runs during Pittsburgh’s last two offensive possessions.
Hodges, who said that he was “a little antsy” after his 79-yard touchdown pass, said that he has no expectation with regard to what his status will be for next week’s showdown with Cleveland.
“I just say prepared for when my number’s called,” said Hodges, who won his first career start back in Week 5. “The only expectation that I have is that when my number is called is to be ready.”