Just one month ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were in the driver's seat of their playoff destiny. Now, the team needs some extra help in order to get into the post-season.
It's been quite the season for the Steelers, who answered a dismal 0-3 start by winning their next eight of ten games. Battling adversity was a constant necessity for Pittsburgh through their schedule, and the team's regular season finale in Baltimore provides no different story-line.
It's Steelers/Ravens rivalry week, and while every game played between the two clubs will carry some sort of fire, the fire certainly feels tempered heading into this match-up. The Ravens have the conference's number one seed officially locked in, leaving little desire left to put forth an honest effort on Sunday. Not to say Baltimore is expected to take their foot off the gas, but with a handful of key starters out of action, it's clear the goal is to remain healthy as the Ravens look forward to post-season play.
Health is something Pittsburgh wasn't afforded for 2019. Take a gander at nearly every position on the depth chart, and you'll find missed games due to injury. Yet in the world of professional football, opportunities will present themselves thanks to factors such as injury, an opportunity that introduced Devlin Hodges to the starting quarterback position for the Steelers.
Hodges broke passing records during his time at Samford University, yet went undrafted this past spring. A Josh Dobbs trade here, and a Ben Roethlisberger/Mason Rudolph injury there left no option for Pittsburgh other than to roll out Hodges. The initial returns were solid, as "Duck" became a household name across Pittsburgh and broadcast booths everywhere.
"He didn't kill us" said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin after assessing Hodges' performance that would effectively make him the starting quarterback back in late November.
However, through the two games, Hodges has done precisely the opposite. In last week's contest in New York, Hodges threw two early interceptions before being benched in favor of Mason Rudolph. The week before against Buffalo, Hodges threw four interceptions in a Sunday Night Football loss to the Bills. Both games featured Hodges possessing a quarterback rating of 10.6 or fewer.
As of late, duck calls have been far and few between in Pittsburgh.
Yet Hodges has a chance to right the ship one last time before Pittsburgh's season potentially comes to a close. The Steelers were playing with house money in 2019, and while nobody expected such an injury-riddled team to compete at this level, Hodges indeed has some stake in Pittsburgh's success thus far.
This upcoming Sunday not only holds importance for this season in Hodges' evaluation, but also for his future in Pittsburgh down the road. There's no doubting the ups and downs that Hodges has faced this season, but a true testament to a quarterback's will is their ability to perform when their back's are against the wall, and seemingly nothing is going their way.
Well, fortunately (or unfortunately) for Hodges, both of the above statements can be held true for this weekend. Pittsburgh needs a win to continue their season, and nothing seems to be going right for Hodges as of late.
"Coach told me I did a good job of staying in the game" said Hodges. "Once I got benched, I was back into the position of being one play away, and I ended up having to go back out there and give us a chance to win. It’s tough, but you have to be a team player."
As Ben Roethlisberger looks to return in 2020, this may be the last time we see Hodges in a starting capacity (Roethlisberger has played all sixteen games just once in the last five seasons, for what it's worth). Should Hodges perform well, his ticket may have been punched to another season on the Steelers' roster.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Steelers will address the quarterback position early in the 2020 NFL Draft. However, there's an overwhelming consensus that the future of the franchise at the quarterback position simply is not currently on the roster.
Knee-jerk reaction? Maybe. Yet a strong performance for Hodges on Sunday will pay dividends for his future, whether or not he's in Pittsburgh.