PITTSBURGH -- Encouraged by the boost of energy quarterback Devlin Hodges gave the Steelers against the Bengals, coach Mike Tomlin announced Tuesday that Hodges will start Sunday's rematch with the Browns.
"We met as a staff, we decided that we're going to start Duck this week," Tomlin said. "Really, the decision is clear for us. ... I thought he provided us a spark in-game. I'm hopeful that he's capable of continuing to provide that spark as we step into this stadium."
Relieving starter Mason Rudolph after a deflating drive to open the third quarter in Cincinnati, Hodges connected with wide receiver James Washington for a 79-yard touchdown just three plays into his first series. From there, Hodges managed the game well enough to hold on for a 16-10 win. That was all Tomlin needed to see.
"I thought the quarterback position by virtue, by nature of the job, it's an opportunity to provide that spark," Tomlin said. "And he made a play there early on, I thought was significant and energized not only our offensive unit, but our team and our sideline. It was enough for us to get out of that stadium. We'll see what this week holds."
Tomlin cautioned that this isn't a permanent decision to go with Hodges over Rudolph as the Steelers (6-5) make a late-season playoff push. He informed Rudolph of the decision Tuesday morning.
"It means nothing about our intended plans for the foreseeable future or the trajectory of Mason's career," Tomlin said. "We're just not of that mentality. We're not in a position to be of that mentality. We're putting pieces together on a week-by-week basis because of the adversity that the game presents."
What did Tomlin see of Hodges to make him the starter this week?
"He has not killed us," Tomlin said.
Sunday will be Hodges' second career start. He made his first earlier this season while playing for a concussed Rudolph against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 6, a game the Steelers won 24-17. Hodges completed 15 of 20 attempts for 132 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Tomlin went back to Rudolph after the bye week and scoffed then at the thought of going back to Hodges following Rudolph's slow start against the Miami Dolphins.
Rudolph never shook off those slow starts and was further hampered by injuries to his surrounding cast. Perhaps most damning, though, was his penchant for turning the ball over. Rudolph had 12 touchdowns to nine interceptions in his time as a starter, including four picks in the Week 11 loss to the Browns and one in the first half of the Bengals win.
Tomlin said the fight between Rudolph and Myles Garrett in Cleveland was not a factor in the decision to start Hodges.
"It goes beyond just Mason and his performance," Tomlin said of making the quarterback change. "He's been in and out of the lineup. Some running backs and offensive linemen have been in and out of the lineup. We miss some guys at receiver, specifically in the last game. The combination of playing without [James] Conner and JuJu [Smith-Schuster] and so maybe some of those negative things have worn away at elements of Mason's play.
"He hadn't protected the ball very recently like he did at the early portions of his participation, and I got a lot of patience for young guys, but one thing that we need to do is take care of the ball. Those are one of the reasons why we gave Devlin an opportunity in Cincy."
Hodges was cut by the team following the preseason and training camp, but when the team traded Josh Dobbs in September, they brought Hodges back to Pittsburgh. He was elevated to the active roster after longtime starter Ben Roethlisberger went on injured reserve.
During that time, Tomlin grew impressed with Hodges' attitude.
"He's been really consistent in terms of his approach," Tomlin said. "At every turn, he's proven that those circumstances aren't too big for him. That he doesn't act funny in any way. ... The offense, the coaches, defense, players, we need to work our tails off to make his job easy this week. That's how we support him."
Going forward, the bar for Hodges is apparently low. Tomlin didn't set out a list of expectations for the quarterback against Cleveland.
"There's going to be enough pressure on Devlin performing, so I'm not going to add to it by talking expectations," Tomlin said. "I expect him to not kill us."