If it walks like duck and talks like a duck...I’m not referring to Steelers rookie quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges, at least not entirely.
But now that I think about it, I suppose it was just a matter of time before an undersized and undrafted free-agent, who was cut in training camp, would come crashing back down to Earth after spending a few weeks in the rarefied air of unrealistic expectations. And if Hodges total regression wasn’t clear one week earlier with a four-interception performance in a loss to the Bills on Sunday Night Football, it became crystal on Sunday, after a two-interception performance in a 16-10 road-loss to the Jets that now leaves the team’s playoff chances in limbo.
But the mere fact that someone with Hodges low draft pedigree and limited skill-set was being counted on to help pull the rope in the right direction, sums up the 2019 campaign perfectly.
Let’s face it, defense doesn’t win championships. Neither does offense. Complete football teams win titles, and the Steelers have never been that in 2019.
They certainly weren’t on Sunday, as the defense once again did its share to win the game after a bit of a shaky start, while the offense, for the seventh time in eight weeks, could only muster one touchdown.
The offense may have looked like it could have scored at least one more touchdown against the Jets on Sunday, especially after Mason Rudolph, the guy who threw five interceptions in his previous six quarters of work, replaced Hodges, the guy who had just thrown his sixth interception in a little under six quarters of work, came on in relief in the second quarter. Much like Hodges had done a time or two earlier in the year, Rudolph seemed to create a bit of a spark, when he helped lead the offense to 10 unanswered points to knot the game at 10 at halftime.
But the fact of the matter is, T.J. Watt, who sacked Sam Darnold, stripped him of the football and recovered the fumble at the Jets 28 late in the second quarter, had as much to do with the Steelers game-tying touchdown as Rudolph did by hooking up with receiver Diontae Johnson for the 29-yard score.
As “hot” as Rudolph appeared to be in the first half, the offense was rather pedestrian in the third quarter before the second-year quarterback from Oklahoma State suffered a left shoulder injury and Hodges was inserted back into the lineup for the final period.
Yes, Hodges damn-near engineered a miracle in the final moments, as both James Washington and JuJu Smith-Schuster had chances to reel in catches that may have given the good guys in white the win. That could have been a result that, quite humorously, may have forced head coach Mike Tomlin to seriously think about who he should start in Week 17: the guy who threw the most important touchdown pass of the season, or the injured guy who replaced him earlier in the day due to poor performance.
We’ll never know the answer to that question because, with this loss, a healthy Rudolph is undoubtedly your Week 17 starter against a Ravens team that will have absolutely nothing to play for.
What we do know is that, for the fourth time since 2013, the Steelers head into their final regular season game needing a win and help in order to reach the postseason.
Therefore, even if Rudolph (or Hodges) leads the Steelers offense to many yards and many points next week—Pittsburgh is the only team in the NFL that has failed to gain at least 400 yards and score at least 28 points in a game this season—it may not matter if the Titans go into Houston and roll over the unmotivated AFC South Champion Texans.
And what if center Maurkice Pouncey, who suffered an injury during Sunday’s game, is out in Week 17? What if James Conner, who yet again failed to make it through four quarters of action on Sunday, is standing around in street clothes?
At 8-7 and with a totally compromised offense, the Steelers are who we thought they were going to be early in the year before the defense stepped up big-time and made us forget about reality.
If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s probably a team that’s missing its franchise quarterback.
Those teams are rarely crowned champions of anything.