QB Ru­dolph knocked out in OT loss to Ravens

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Will Graves

PITTS­BURGH — Earl Thomas saw Ma­son Ru­dolph step up in the pocket and took aim at what the Baltimore Ravens safety con­sid­ered Pitts­burgh quar­ter­back’s “strike zone.” One ugly and il­le­gal col­li­sion later, Ru­dolph lay mo­tion­less on the Heinz Field turf and one of the NFL’s most bit­ter ri­val­ries was re­born.

Thomas’ crunch­ing hit to Ru­dolph’s chin left Ru­dolph with a con­cus­sion and Pitts­burgh’s sea­son in the hands of un­drafted rookie free agent quar­ter­back Devlin Hodges. While Hodges filled in ad­mirably af­ter Ru­dolph woozily made his way off the field and to a nearby hos­pi­tal for fur­ther eval­u­a­tion, the Ravens pulled out a 26-23 over­time vic­tory that could have a sig­nif­i­cant rip­ple ef­fect on both teams’ sea­sons.

Baltimore (3-2) snapped a two-game skid when safety Mar­lon Humphrey stripped Steel­ers wide re­ceiver JuJu Smith-Schus­ter and re­cov­ered the fum­ble at the Pitts­burgh 34 early in the ex­tra pe­riod. Justin Tucker slipped a 46-yard field goal through the up­rights four plays later as the Ravens won at Heinz Field for a se­cond straight sea­son.

”[When over­time started] I was on the side­line and I was think­ingW, ` hat­ever hap­pens right now, some­body’s go­ing to make a big play and go­ing to be re­mem­bered for­ever in the out­come of this game,“’ Humphrey said.

Maybe, but for all the weird­ness of the game — from La­mar Jack­son’s three in­ter­cep­tions to Steel­ers coach Mike Tom­lin’s de­ci­sion to kick off in over­time in­stead of tak­ing the ball to an­other cru­cial late-game fum­ble by Smith-Schus­ter — it’s the visual of Ru­dolph un­con­scious on the turf in a silent sta­dium that will linger.

Trail­ing 17-13 and fac­ing third-and-11 at the Pitts­burgh 12 mid­way through the third quar­ter, Ru­dolph lined up in the shot­gun and dropped back to pass. The play broke down and Ru­dolph scram­bled to his left, stepping up the field in the process. He flicked the ball to team­mate James Wash­ing­ton just be­fore the crown of Thomas’ hel­met hit Ru­dolph un­der the chin. Ru­dolph limply fell to the ground and laid there with his eyes closed while med­i­cal per­son­nel rushed to at­tend to him.

“I was just fly­ing to the ball like I nor­mally do,” said Thomas, who signed with Baltimore in the off­sea­son af­ter be­com­ing a peren­nial Pro Bowler with Seattle. ”I was ask­ing the ref what hap­pened and they said up­stairs said that a part of my hel­met kind of hit him in the chin, and that’s what caused the flag. I still be­lieve that it wasn’t in­ten­tional on my part.”

Ru­dolph even­tu­ally came to as train­ers cut off

his face mask. He needed to be helped off the field by his team­mates be­cause the cart used to treat se­ri­ously hurt play­ers stalled. Tom­lin wasn’t sure why the cart wasn’t work­ing.

“Ask some­body that is in charge of that,” Tom­lin said. ”I don’t drive carts and things of that na­ture.”

The scene of play­ers on both sides go­ing down to one knee while Ru­dolph was be­ing treated was eerily sim­i­lar to the on-field re­ac­tion in Cincin­nati in De­cem­ber 2017 when Steel­ers line­backer Ryan Shazier sus­tained a spinal in­jury. Shazier, cur­rently on the phys­i­cally un­able to per­form list while he con­tin­ues his re­hab from spinal sta­bi­liza­tion surgery, walked over to Ru­dolph and briefly com­forted him as Ru­dolph made his way to the locker room for fur­ther treat­ment and ex­am­i­na­tion as the crowd chanted “Throw him out!” at Thomas.

“When you see some­body ly­ing life­less like that it kind of strikes a bell,” Pitts­burgh line­backer Bud Dupree said. “Any hu­man be­ing that cares about some­body in that type of sit­u­a­tion will feel a cer­tain way. When some­thing like that hap­pens, it makes a trig­ger go off in your brain and you’ve got to con­trol your­self.”

Baltimore coach John Har­baugh likened the hit to ”kind of like a box­ing deal,” adding he did not be­lieve it was Thomas’ in­tent to hit the 6-foot-5 Ru­dolph so high.

“It’s fast and he’s clos­ing and Ma­son is run­ning and he’s not go­ing down, throw­ing the ball,” Har­baugh said.

Pitts­burgh (1-4) did not fold af­ter be­ing forced to go with Hodges, an un­drafted rookie free agent out of Sam­ford who was signed to be a ”camp” arm be­fore or­ga­nized team ac­tiv­i­ties. He trot­ted onto the field when Ru­dolph slipped out of view and hardly looked ner­vous. He com­pleted 7 of 9 passes for 68 yards and had a 21-yard sprint to set up Chris Boswell’s go-ahead field goal with 2:41 to play.

It wasn’t quite enough to put away the Ravens. Jack­son — with the help of a rough­ing the passer call on Steel­ers line­backer Ola Adeniyi — moved Baltimore in range to have Tucker tie it with 14 sec­onds to go.

Cal­cu­lated Risk: Pitts­burgh won the coin toss to start over­time, but cu­ri­ously opted to kick the ball rather than re­ceive it even though an of­fen­sive touch­down would have ended the game. Tom­lin pointed to his team’s in­ef­fec­tive kick­off re­turn unit as one of the rea­sons for the de­ci­sion. Tucker had con­sis­tently pinned the Steel­ers deep in their own ter­ri­tory through­out the game. It worked. Pitts­burgh forced a punt and took over at its 34 be­fore Humphrey’s ex­pertly timed forced fum­ble on Smith-Schus­ter swung the bal­ance to the Ravens for good.

“I put the de­fense on the field in an ef­fort to fight for field po­si­tion and get the onus on them to get the stop,” Tom­lin said.

In­juries: Ravens safety Tony Jef­fer­son went down in the fourth quar­ter with a left knee in­jury.

Steel­ers’ Wash­ing­ton left in the third quar­ter with a shoul­der in­jury and did not re­turn. Line­backer Mark Bar­ron ex­ited in the se­cond quar­ter with a ham­string in­jury.

Up Next: Ravens host AFC North ri­val Cincin­nati next Sun­day. The teams split their two meet­ings in 2018.

Steel­ers visit Los An­ge­les to face the Charg­ers next Sun­day. Los An­ge­les beat the Steel­ers in Pitts­burgh 33-30 last sea­son.

DON WRIGHT/AP

Steel­ers of­fen­sive line­men Ale­jan­dro Vil­lanueva, left, and Ra­mon Foster call for help af­ter quar­ter­back Ma­son Ru­dolph was in­jured Sun­day.

DON WRIGHT/AP

Steel­ers quar­ter­back Ma­son Ru­dolph is hit by Ravens free safety Earl Thomas, left, and cor­ner­back Bran­don Carr dur­ing the se­cond half of Sun­day’s game in Pitts­burgh.

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