Duck's calling

Mason Rudolph went down and stayed down. Players from both teams took a knee in the vicinity of the Steelers’ fallen quarterback. A cart was brought onto the playing surface. Heinz Field grew quiet.

And Devlin Hodges got ready to go to work.

“I threw my headset down and ran and got my helmet,” Hodges explained. “I didn’t know how long he was going to be down for. I was ready to go in in 10 seconds or a minute or however long it took.”

Rudolph eventually got to his feet and was helped off the field, not by the cart that had been summoned but by offensive linemen B.J. Finney and Zach Banner.

Hodges briefly checked in with Rudolph, a player he considers “one of my closer friends on the team,” a player who has “really taken me in.”

And then Hodges went to work.

He took over facing a first-and-10 from the Baltimore 47-yard line with 7:17 left in the third quarter and the Steelers trailing the Ravens, 17-13. He finished with seven completions on nine attempts for 68 yards passing. He was also credited with two rushing attempts for 20 yards, including a 21-yard burst.

Hodges was in the game for four possessions, not including the one-play kneel-down at the end of regulation, and the Steelers scored on two of them (a touchdown that gave the Steelers a 20-17 lead and a field goal that pushed them ahead 23-20).

His last pass was complete to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for 10 yards and a first down in overtime.

Smith-Schuster’s subsequent fumble and the recovery by Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey at the Steelers’ 34-yard line turned the game one final time.

Justin Tucker’s 46-yard field goal won it for Baltimore, 26-23.

But Hodges had been what he intended to be _ fearless.

“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s something I do each and every day, come in and compete, just let it hang loose and throw it.”

IN ‘DUCK’ THEY TRUST: Smith-Schuster felt “terrible, man. This is literally the worst feeling ever.”

But in the aftermath late Sunday afternoon there was also recognition of the job Hodges had done.

“He came in the game ready to play,” Smith-Schuster said of Hodges, a tryout invitee to rookie minicamp and something of a curiosity during training camp because of his award-winning duck-calling prowess. “He hasn’t practiced with us at all throughout the week, but knowing his confidence his emotions were strong. He was ready to play.”

Hodges, 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, wasn’t drafted out of Samford, where he broke Steve McNair’s FCS national record of 14,496 passing yards.

Nor was he signed as an undrafted free agent.

But outside linebacker Bud Dupree thinks the Steelers can win with an afterthought quarterback whose nickname is “Duck” if it comes to that next Sunday in Los Angeles.

“Definitely,” Dupree insisted. “I’ve seen ‘Duck’ shred people. We believe in ‘Duck.’ ‘Duck’ was killing us in camp. We already know how ‘Duck’ can throw the ball and ‘Duck’ believes in himself, too.

“This next week we’ll move forward, he’ll have more time, preparation. Hopefully everything is good with Mason, and God bless him.”

NEXT ‘DUCK’ UP: Hodges didn’t practice with the first-team offense during preparation for the Ravens, but he maintained he was ready to do what he does.

“Just playing football,” Hodges said. “I feel like I know the offense. I just went out there executing, no matter what play was called. I’ve always been a guy that has kind of been aggressive and thrown the ball and what not.”

He threw for 14,584 career yards at Samford and won the Walter Payton Award in 2018 (top offensive player in FCS).

On Sunday afternoon he was quarterbacking the Steelers, and might again.

“I definitely think about it,” Hodges said. “It’s something I thought about ever since I was a kid. I hate the reason why, but I’m glad I’m in the situation that I’m in and have the chance to play.”

WINNING THE STATISTICS: The Ravens came in averaging 482.5 total net years per game and gained 277 against the Steelers.

The Ravens came in having turned the ball over three times in four games and coughed it up three times against the Steelers (interceptions by safety Kameron Kelly, cornerback Mike Hilton and inside linebacker Devin Bush).

And the Ravens came in averaging 33.8 points per game and scored 26 in four quarters-plus against the Steelers (Baltimore’s second and final touchdown was scored with 11:21 left in the second quarter).

Defensive tackle Cam Heyward wasn’t impressed with any of that.

“We’re in it for the outcomes,” Heyward said.

But free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick wasn’t discouraged in defeat.

“We played pretty solid football,” Fitzpatrick said. “Some unfortunate things happened, our quarterback going down. We have some things to clean up on defense.

“We’re not far, 1-4 doesn’t really reflect where this team is at. We’re a really good team, a really solid team. We’re just going to keep getting better.”

Advertising