But the cheers for James Washington‘s 26-yard reception quickly subsided and the focus shifted away from him and back to the motionless quarterback some 30 yards behind the play.
With a hard hit by Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas II to Rudolph’s chin with 7:29 remaining in the third quarter of the Steelers’ 26-23 overtime loss, the quarterback was placed in the concussion protocol, forcing the Steelers to play their third signal-caller in four weeks.
“I didn’t intentionally try to hurt him,” Thomas said, insisting he didn’t hit Rudolph too high. “I’m worried about him. I heard he’s at the hospital. My prayers go out to him and his family. I’ve never tried to hurt anybody. At the end of the day, guys have families.”
Running over to Rudolph after the hit, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva put his hands on the unconscious quarterback’s chest in a cursory check for vital signs and frantically motioned to the athletic trainers on the sideline.
“When he was on the ground, it looked like it was a lot more serious than just a simple hit,” Villanueva said. “I don’t like to get into details of his medical condition. You could tell he had been hit to the head and the only thing I could do was to wave the trainers down to the location.”
As team medical personnel rushed out, Rudolph’s teammates came closer to their injured quarterback. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster crumpled backward upon seeing Rudolph laying on the ground. Overcome with emotion, Smith-Schuster crawled forward on all fours as he prayed for his teammate.
“I’ve heard of situations where the person’s not moving at all and they don’t get up,” Smith-Schuster said. “And I was just praying to God that he gets up, and he’s our quarterback and he’s our guy. I’m praying for a speedy recovery.”
James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster express their hope that Mason Rudolph will be OK after leaving Sunday’s game due to injury.
While trainers surrounded Rudolph, the cart came out on the field and the stretcher was brought out. Though mostly still, Rudolph’s legs moved intermittently as trainers worked on him, unsnapping his facemask from the front of his helmet.
As Rudolph stood up after about four minutes on the ground, the officials announced a roughing the passer call against Thomas for the hit, and the crowd responded with loud chants of “Take him out.”
Afterward, though, Thomas maintained his hit on Rudolph was legal.
“It’s a football play,” Thomas said. “It wasn’t dirty. He actually got sandwiched. B-Carr [Brandon Carr] came from behind, and I hit him from the side in the strike zone. I didn’t even see a flag initially. I think once they saw how serious it was, they were like, ‘Oh, let me throw this flag,’ which was understandable.”
Rudolph didn’t exit on the cart as it failed to work correctly due to what a team spokesman characterized after the game as an operator error, and instead, linemen Zach Banner and B.J. Finney came from the sideline to assist their quarterback. Rudolph looped an arm around each of their necks, and together, the trio advanced slowly toward the sideline.
The NFL later issued a clarification regarding why Rudolph didn’t exit on a cart after his injury.
“A cart was brought on the field in the event it was needed,” the league said in the statement. “After evaluating the player, medical staff determined a cart was not necessary in this instance. Had one been needed, there was a backup cart on the other sideline which was immediately available. He received appropriate medical care per gameday protocols, and is now in the concussion protocol.”
The pair talked to Rudolph a bit, asking him what — if anything — he remembered, and they got a smile and a small laugh out of him.
“By the time I was carrying him, he was responsive and talking and everything,” Finney said. “It’s a scary moment, but we’re glad he’s all right and that he’ll come back to us.”
Once on the sideline, Rudolph was helped into the tunnel by more team personnel and was taken to a hospital for precautionary tests. A source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that Rudolph will be “OK,” and “so far, signs are good” regarding his responsiveness and spirits. He’s now home from the hospital, according to the source.
With Rudolph’s concussion, the Steelers are on the verge of starting a third different quarterback in six weeks. Rudolph took over for Ben Roethlisberger at halftime of the Steelers’ Week 2 loss after Roethlisberger’s season-ending elbow injury.
After Rudolph’s injury Sunday, the spotlight turned to former Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges, who was elevated to the 53-man roster from the practice squad after Roethlisberger’s injury.
Hodges completed 7 of 9 attempts for 68 yards in relief of Rudolph, and he recorded the Steelers’ longest run of the game with a 21-yard scramble in the fourth quarter.
“Mason is my guy,” Hodges said. “I would say he is one of my closer friends on the team. He has really taken me in. You might see me on the sideline kind of just standing there, it wasn’t because I was freaking out about me going in, I was just thinking about Mason and what’s up with him and is he OK. After a minute, he was just lying there, he wasn’t even moving. That is just tough to look at.”