CINCINNATI -- After being benched because of ineffectiveness in the Steelers' 16-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, quarterback Mason Rudolph vehemently denied Myles Garrett's accusations that he directed a racial slur at Garrett to escalate the melee at the end of Pittsburgh's Week 11 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
"I think any human would be [distraught] in one day, when your integrity's attacked and something's said about you that's totally untrue," Rudolph said Sunday when asked about feeling "distraught" about the allegation. "And I couldn't believe it, and I couldn't believe that he would go that route after the fact. But it is what it is. I think I've moved on, and ... one day it was tough."
Rudolph's benching Sunday came on the heels of a tumultuous week for the quarterback. His four-interception performance against the Cleveland Browns was overshadowed by the late-game brawl that resulted in 33 fines and three suspensions. A week after the fight, Garrett, who was suspended indefinitely for striking Rudolph in the head with his own helmet, accused the quarterback of using a racial slur to escalate the fight. The NFL also said it found "no evidence" of Garrett's allegation.
Despite the distractions of the past week, Rudolph said the chaos didn't contribute to his abysmal performance against the Bengals. He completed just 8-of-16 pass attempts for 85 yards and ended the Steelers' second drive with an interception in the red zone.
"I think I do a good job of shutting that stuff out," he said. "And this was just purely -- not moving the ball up and down the field."
After two quarters of ineffective and stagnant play by Rudolph, coach Mike Tomlin had enough. He gave his starter one last drive to open the third quarter, but Rudolph took a sack and underthrew a wobbly pass to seal his fate.
"Just felt like our offense needed a spark," Tomlin said, explaining the decision to turn to backup Devlin "Duck" Hodges. "Mason wasn't doing enough; Duck came in and provided us with a spark, made a couple plays. We'll see what next week holds, next week. But I like the contributions of Duck; I like his readiness; I appreciate the efforts of Mason and also appreciate the support of Mason after we made the change."
Tomlin declined to disclose the quarterback plan going forward, but Hodges performed well enough to help the team to a win -- and maybe earn a starting job next week against the Browns. He completed 5 of 11 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown. And, perhaps most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over.
"It's football," Tomlin said. "We're not going to read too much into it. He made some plays, but you can't take anything away from [wide receiver] James Washington, with what he did to produce after that catch. Man, we're just all rowing together.
"You'll make more out of Duck's contributions than need be, but so be it. It comes with the position. They get too much credit at times, and they get too much blame at times. They all understand the nature of that, just like I understand the nature of the criticism and things that come with my position."
Hodges took over for Rudolph once before this season, coming in when Rudolph suffered a concussion against the Ravens in Week 5. Hodges started -- and won -- the next week against the Los Angeles Chargers before Rudolph resumed his starting duties after the bye week.
Under Rudolph, the offense had just three plays of at least 10 yards in the first half -- all coming from players signed off practice squads eight days earlier. Running back Kerrith Whyte had a 21-yard rush and a 16-yard carry in the drive that ended with Rudolph's interception. And wide receiver Deon Cain made a 35-yard catch in the second quarter on second-and-21.
It didn't get better in the third quarter, when the offense went three-and-out after halftime and lost 3 yards.
"I saw enough of what I needed to see and thought we needed a spark," Tomlin said. "And whatever time of the game that was, was whatever time of the game that was."
Hodges provided the spark Tomlin sought almost instantly. On the third play of his first drive, the rookie Samford product hit Washington on a post route. Washington caught the ball and ran in to finish the 79-yard score, complete with a nasty stiff-arm to B.W. Webb.
"For me, it was obviously a confidence booster," Hodges said. "I didn't think the third play I was in [that] I'd be throwing a 79-yard touchdown pass, but if I could go back and do it again, it would be pretty cool."
Hodges didn't lead another touchdown drive, but he did help the team add two field goals to earn the win and remain in playoff contention with a 6-5 record entering next week's rematch with the Browns.
"Each week, we just have to figure out a way to get a win," cornerback Joe Haden said. "It may not be pretty, but if we win an ugly game, it's worth it. It doesn't matter how we win."