It's Duck Season...
In two passes, the Steelers season went from the hands of Mason Rudolph to those of Devlin "Duck" Hodges. 90 yards and a 79-yard touchdown pass to James Washington lit up a crowd that was just about ready to give up against a 0-10 Bengals team. And in the midst of what's likely the most berserk seasons in Steelers' history, it's now Duck Season.
The thought behind it was much like the season they're currently playing; nothing, and everything, to lose football. When you're out of second-chances, fighting from the ground up, you take those extra risks. Hodges bulldozed into defenders, escaped the pocket, and threw as he headed to the ground like he had everything to prove - because he did.
Hodges didn't play like a Super Bowl winning quarterback. Devin Bush punching the ball out of Tyler Boyd's hand was what likely won Pittsburgh the game. But truthfully, it wasn't as much Hodge's unsuccessful play than the conservative offensive play-calling.
After going 2-2 for 90 yards and a 72-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive, the Steelers returned to 10-yard outs and screen passes. In an early effort to drain the clock, Pittsburgh's offense became timid and Hodges' opportunity to shine began to dim.
Yet, as Benny Snell started to gain momentum and Bud Dupree ended Cincinnati's chances, it felt as if the quarterback change sparked something that went out behind Rudolph. If nothing else, Hodges was going to go the extra mile, and in an offense dealing with as big a blow as the Steelers', that's what you need.
In an offense that started to threaten their team's playoff chances - one that was holding back one of the best stories of the 2019 season - there needed to be a change. That change was made, and Pittsburgh's season remained alive. Would it have without Duck behind center? Maybe. But you certainly can't say it was a definite yes.
"I just felt like our offense needed a spark," head coach Mike Tomlin explained. "Just felt like Mason wasn’t doing enough. Duck came in and gave us a spark."
For a undrafted third-string quarterback, Hodges may have the most confidence in the Steelers' locker room. He's never felt extra pressure for the situation he's in or the journey he's taken to get here. When he stepped on the field at Paul Brown Stadium, nothing changed.
"It was just go in and do your thing," Hodges said. "I knew I was ready. Just go out there and have fun and play football."
The last time I spoke with Duck we talked about his confidence. It wasn't something that's come with the accolades and accomplishments - although they don't hurt - it was something he's had throughout life.
"It's something you can say I was born with," Hodges said. "It's something that I've always had as a kid. I've always believed in myself, no matter what other people say."
It's a moxie that has carried the Steelers to two wins. A part of their offense that's kept this season alive during dyer times twice. Tomlin wouldn't say if this story will last longer than this week, but without anything to lose, there's no reason for it not to.
Duck season needs to be the next headline in Pittsburgh. Hodges has proven he's capable of providing a spark. It may not be a superstar contribution, but it generates confidence. With a defense that'll do what it needs to to keep their team in the game, all you need is a chance.
Hodges gives the Steelers a chance. Until proven otherwise, the fight for a playoff spot should be run behind the undrafted rookie.