Steelers stick with Hodges against Jets

Field Level Media

December 19, 2019 at 8:47 am.

With control of their playoff hopes on the line, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a decision to make at quarterback going into their road game against the New York Jets this week.

Coach Mike Tomlin didn’t appear to waver. He is sticking with undrafted rookie Devlin “Duck” Hodges on Sunday.

The Steelers (8-6) would clinch a spot in the postseason if they win their final two games.

Pittsburgh might well have gone back to Mason Rudolph, who has more pedigree but lost the job to Hodges. A Samford product, Hodges won his first three starts before throwing four interceptions and finishing with a 43.9 passer rating last week in a 17-10 home loss to the Buffalo Bills.

It’s all cool with Hodges, an unflappable sort.

“We watched the tape. I’ve got some things I can learn from and get better,” Hodges said. “Gotta let that one go and move on and get ready for this week.”

Hodges also isn’t going to be glancing over at the sideline, wondering if he might be pulled for Rudolph at the first sign of difficulty.

“I don’t think any of the coaches are thinking about that because I don’t think any of the coaches are expecting me to have a bad game,” he said. “They expect me to learn and get better.”

Hodges and the offense could have some help if receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster can return after missing four games because of a knee injury. Smith-Schuster, a Pro Bowler in 2018, practiced in a limited capacity Wednesday.

“We’ve just got two more games. We’ve got to win out,” Smith-Schuster said. “My mind is telling me I want to go out there. My body is telling me I want to go out there. But I don’t want to go out there and mess it up to the point where I’m out for a whole other year because of my knee.”

On the flip side, Pittsburgh’s defense, the steel backbone of the team, will be facing former Steelers All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell for the first time. Bell hasn’t had a gangbusters season, but he is coming off a season-high 87 yards rushing last week in the Jets’ 42-21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Bell sat out the 2018 season over a salary dispute and his lack of a multiyear contract, refusing to play under the team’s franchise-tag designation.

“He was a great teammate when he was here,” Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I never had any ill will with him. He came to work. You knew what you were getting on Sunday. I think he cared about what he put on the field. He cared about his teammates.”

The Jets (5-9) will miss the playoffs for the ninth year in a row but are trying to reach six wins for the first time since 2015.

“It’s two playoff games for us,” safety Jamal Adams, New York’s lone Pro Bowl selection, said of the approach to the last two weeks of the season. “We don’t go out there to lose ballgames no matter the record. I see a lot of things where people say we might as well tank. Nah. To hell with that.”

Adams missed the past two weeks because of an ankle injury but practiced Wednesday and said chances “are very high” he will face Pittsburgh.

The Jets lost two more players for the season this week, tackle Chuma Edoga (knee) and receiver Jeff Smith (ankle), giving them 18 players on injured reserve.

Hodges said not just the offense but he specifically could benefit if Smith-Schuster is able to play. In fact, he benefits even when Smith-Schuster is participating in practice.

“When he’s out there, it just makes me a little bit more comfortable,” Hodges said. “He’s been in the system, knows what he’s doing. Good to have him back (in practice).”