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'Composure' and 'leadership' Hodges' elixir to success Sunday

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Rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges was told by some players and even coaches that “this wasn’t over” when he was released by the Steelers in the preseason. Those prophecies came true on Sunday as he was picked over Mason Rudolph to start against visiting Cleveland.

“I never once thought that I was not an NFL player,” Hodges said. “I’m thankful I’m with the Steelers. Starting a game in the NFL is a dream I’ve always had.”

Hodges, known as “Duck,” made the most of his opportunity. Although he was an unsigned rookie free agent that stuck with the Steelers after a post-draft tryout, he outshined Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was the first overall pick in last year’s NFL draft.

Mayfield completed 18 passes on 32 attempts for 196 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Hodges completed 14 passes on 21 attempts for 212 yards. He threw one touchdown and also threw one interception. His longest pass was a 44-yarder to James Washington.

The Steelers were down 10-0 at the time and were lifeless on both sides of the ball. That completion to Washington was the Steelers best offensive play up to that point. The catch helped fuel a field goal drive that allowed the Steelers to get on the scoreboard.

“It was a heckuva play by James. We had a free play because [Cleveland] was offsides,” Hodges said. “That gave us a spark. We wanted to take advantage of it. We started making plays and getting into a groove.”

Washington felt the receiving corps just needed to do their job in the absence of starter Juju Smith-Schuster who sat out due to an injury. Washington caught four passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.

“The receivers were ready to go when our number was called and make plays down the field.

We never know how many opportunities we’ll get,” Washington said. “There couldn’t have been a better time (to perform well). We don’t need to go out there and be superheroes. We just need to do our job.”

Washington credited Hodges for staying composed throughout the game.

“He stayed calm the whole game. All the guys could see that in him,” Washington said. “He came in and did his job. At the end of the day it’s just about making plays.”

Hodges directed a five-play, 69-yard touchdown drive in 48 seconds to tie game 10-10 on the last series before the half. He connected to Washington for 30 yards on the touchdown.

When he wasn’t throwing the ball Hodges also made plays with his feet. With two minutes left in the third quarter, he took off for a nine yard run to gain a first down and keep the drive alive, which resulted in a field goal and extended the Steelers’  lead to 20-10 early in the fourth quarter.

“I saw the lane open up and I knew I could get the first down,” Hodges said. “I just tried to make plays.”

Former Cleveland Brown safety Joe Haden, who now plays for the Steelers, knew Hodges could get the job done since he has been playing against Hodges in practice. Haden had an interception in the final minute to seal the win.

“We’ve been practicing with ‘Duck.’ He’s been our scout team quarterback for awhile,” Haden said. “We watching him make some great passes against our first team defense, so we knew when he got in the position to play, he would be capable of making all the throws.”

Nobody knows how many more throws Hodges will be making this season, but he will remember the win on Sunday for life.

“It was awesome [being introduced before the game]. I knew they would have me come out of the tunnel last. It was so loud, I don’t think I even heard my name called,” Hodges said. “

It was definitely a moment I’ll never forget.”

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