What an ugly start.
With the Steelers gaining a total of 4 yards in their first two drives, they found themselves down 10-0 by the time they started their third possession. After an incomplete pass and a 1-yard gain, quarterback Devlin Hodges had yet to complete a pass beyond the line of scrimmage. Through the first 10 plays, the Steelers had 5 total yards. It seemed as if the offensive game plan was to not even bother to score, but hope the defense could do something to win the game.
It was ridiculous.
Facing a 3rd & 9 on their own 18 yard line, Hodges managed to get the Browns defense to jump offsides which gave the Steelers a free play. Being aware of the situation, Hodges took his first real downfield shot of the game. Even if something bad happened, the Steelers would just accept the penalty and try third down over again. Instead, James Washington came down with the pass for a 31-yard gain to midfield. It was the play that changed everything.
The very next play the Steelers ran an end around with Diontae Johnson which gained 17 yards. From that point on, the Steelers pretty much just ran the ball down the field until a terrible false start call killed the drive and they had to settle for a field goal.
Even with the big completion, it still seemed as if offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was not going to allow Devlin Hodges to push the ball down the field.
Then the defense stepped up. Forcing a three and out to where the Steelers received the punt as the first play inside the two minute warning, it was time for the Steelers’ two-minute drill. As much as Fitchner probably would have loved to keep Hodges from throwing the ball down the field, it was time to give it a go in order to to try to get a field goal before the end of the half since they were trailing by a touchdown.
Settle for a field goal? Not this time. Instead, James Washington makes a fantastic catch on a 30-yard touchdown in which he also drew a penalty for pass interference. So the Steelers would have received the ball with the 1 yard line anyway if not for the catch. Instead, the Steelers were in the end zone to tie the game just before the half.
On the Steelers last drive of the first half, Hodges had completions for 6 yards and 5 yards before taking a deep shot which was incomplete. While I was concerned the Steelers wouldn’t take another shot because for Fichtner to roll the dice once was a big deal. Surprisingly, Hodges connected with Tevin Jones for 28 yards on the next play. Wasting no time, it was the very next throw which was the 30-yard touchdown to Washington.
The drive was 69 yards on five plays because the Steelers didn’t have a choice to be conservative. And it was Hodges’ opportunity to show what he could do.
For the second half, not only was Hodges as comfortable as usual, but it seemed like offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner finally became comfortable with him as well. A nice combination of short and long passes along with the running game helped the Steelers move the ball down the field for another touchdown to open a half.
It must be noted that Hodges, although he played a great game, did not play perfectly. Too often in the first half he rolled out of the pocket and into the pressure rather than step up into the pocket to make the throw. Additionally, on his last play of the game other than a kneel down, he would have been smarter to give himself up and let the clock run rather than throw the ball away. I’m not even going to go into the interception because it seemed as if it was as much, if not more, on the receiver than the quarterback.
But as head coach Mike Tomlin said in his post-game press conference, “He didn’t kill us.” This was definitely the case. And since the Steelers were in the unfortunate situation of trailing early and getting some great situations for Hodges to show what he could do, Randy Fichtner finally got out of the way of the young quarterback and let him play up to his potential.
Would Randy Fichtner have been forced to allow Devlin Hodges to throw the ball down the field eventually? Maybe. We’ll never know. But one thing that we do know for sure: Steelers 20 Browns 13.