CINCINNATI _ They won the game because they were ready when called upon, per Mike Tomlin’s instructions.
“Coach Tomlin always says, ‘If I ever ring, if I ever dial, answer,’” quarterback Devlin Hodges offered late Sunday afternoon after the Steelers’ 16-10 survival of the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. “That’s just kinda something he says to everybody.
“It’s all about this being a team. Everyone that’s wearing a helmet each and every week has to be prepared and go out there and do the job.”
Hodges was ready when summoned to replace Mason Rudolph on the second offensive series of the second half. The relief effort included five completions on 11 attempts, highlighted by a 79-yard, catch-and-run touchdown pass to wide receiver James Washington that put the Steelers ahead, 10-7.
Running back Kerrith Whyte Jr. was ready. He was signed last week off the Bears’ practice squad and responded with six carries for 43 yards in his NFL debut. Whyte was also deployed as a kickoff returner (one for 15 yards).
Wide receiver Deon Cain was ready. He was signed last week off the Colts’ practice squad and caught the only ball thrown to him for a 35-yard gain on what became a drive for a field goal in the second quarter.
Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 12 game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium
And running back Benny Snell Jr. was ready. Returning to action after missing three games following knee surgery, Snell carried 21 times for 98 yards, including nine attempts for 63 yards in the fourth quarter, when the Steelers broke a 10-10 tie.
Snell had insisted he knew he was ready late last week.
He elaborated as to why that was the case after beating the Bengals.
“Practice, to be honest,” Snell said. “‘J-Sam’ (running back Jaylen Samuels), (fullback) Rosie Nix and (running back) James Conner, they do a great job with preparing me. With me being out, I got an outside look of how the team was and how we work as an offense.
“I felt like I learned a lot, and I was ready.”
QB OR NOT QB: Rudolph and Hodges said they didn’t know what the plan at quarterback would be as the Steelers prepare for this Sunday’s game against Cleveland.
“That’s a coaching decision, I’m gonna respect whatever they do,” Rudolph said. “Obviously, I wanna play, but that’s a coaching deal. You’re gonna have to ask Coach Tomlin about that.”
Added Hodges: “I don’t know, you’ll have to talk to Coach on that.”
Tomlin wouldn’t address starting quarterback for the Browns game but hinted he may have already arrived at a decision.
“I may have it as I stand here right now, but I’m just not going to share it with you guys,” he said.
Hodges’ appearance against the Bengals was his third this season, after taking over when Rudolph suffered a concussion on Oct. 6 against Baltimore and starting on Oct. 13 at the Los Angeles Chargers.
“Every time they called on me I’ve provided,” Hodges said.
TAKE IT AWAY: The Steelers didn’t get their first turnover until the fourth quarter, but it was worth the wait. Trailing 13-10 with 8:59 left in regulation, Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley hit wide receiver Tyler Boyd for 22 yards to the Steelers’ 8-yard line. Inside linebacker Devin Bush caught Boyd from behind and forced a fumble, free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick recovered and returned the ball 36 yards to the Steelers’ 46, and the Bengals were denied an opportunity to tie the game or take the lead.
“It was a crossing route, he turned it into a wheel route,” Bush said. “In that phase I was kind of trailing, but Coach (Tomlin) always says, ‘Finish the play, we need splash plays.’ I just finished the play and just played through the play.
“Right there I’m thinking I have to get the ball out some way, somehow, gotta get him on the ground, have another chance at it. I punched for it and it came out.”
Outside linebacker Bud Dupree recorded a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery that gave the Steelers possession at the Bengals’ 21 with 2:38 left in the fourth.
Fitzpatrick credited the defense for maintaining a mindset throughout.
“Give (the Steelers’ offense) a short field so they don’t have to go the length of the field,” he said. “We did that for the most part. We started off a little slow, but just go out there, execute, create turnovers, get the ball in the offense’s hands and score if you can.”