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NFL predictions: Mike Gundy vouches for Mason Rudolph


It’s been a rough two weeks for Mason Rudolph. Famously hit in the head with a helmet by Cleveland’s Myles Garrett. Accused of racial slurs by Garrett, who was trying to get his season suspension reduced. Benched in the third quarter against the Bengals on Sunday. Demoted on Tuesday in favor of Devlin Hodges to start at quarterback for the Steelers on Sunday in the grudge rematch against the Browns.

First things first. The Browns can vouch for the character of Garrett all they want. But he’s the one who slung the helmet. He’s the one who didn’t mention racial slurs in his post-game explanations of what the heck happened in Cleveland the night of November 14. He’s the one who has no Browns personnel standing up saying, yes, Garrett told us that Rudolph used racial slurs.

And Rudolph has his supporters, too, including his coach at Oklahoma State.

I asked Mike Gundy about the racial slur allegations.

“I heard that a day or two ago,” Gundy told me Saturday after the Cowboys beat West Virginia. “I have never ever heard that from him or had any inclination of that from him. Obviously, I wasn’t there. I’m partial to Mason. But if it I was going to be bi-partisan, why 10 days later? That’s something I’d have brought up right after the game or on the field.

“If I’m the judge and we’re bringing evidence to the table, I’m not buying it. What I can say is this. I never ever saw any of that from him. That’s just not his character. To a certain extent, Mason is your typical good ol’ Leave it to Beaver kid. That’s who Mason is. He’s a nice guy.

“That would shock me. When I heard it first, I thought they were joking. Then they said, well no, they said it happened. I just said, ‘well, I wonder why he waited 10 days to bring it up?’ That’s just not his demeanor or his case. That’s just not him at all.”

Unfortunately, Rudolph’s play did not warrant a chance at revenge against the Browns. Rudolph, in his second year since being drafted in the third round by the Steelers in 2018, has started eight games in place of the injured Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh has gone a respectable 5-3 in those games, but Rudolph has completed just 61.6 percent of his passes, with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

In a 16-10 win at Cincinnati last Sunday, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin benched Rudolph early in the third quarter, and Hodges led Pittsburgh to a come-from behind victory.

Tuesday, Tomlin announced that Hodges would start Sunday against the Browns. Hodges is an undrafted rookie from Samford University who quarterbacked the Steelers to a victory over the Chargers earlier this season after Rudolph suffered a concussion.

“We met as a staff, we decided that we're going to start Duck this week," Tomlin told Pittsburgh media. “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."

Crazy as it sounds, Hodges’ big throw was a 79-yard touchdown pass to James Washington, Rudolph’s favorite target from OSU days.

"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."

The good news for Rudolph? Tomlin said the demotion isn’t an indictment of Rudolph’s future with the Steelers.

“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."

But Tomlin did say something indirectly ominous concerning Rudolph. Of Hodges, Tomlin said, “He has not killed us," Tomlin said.

Tomlin said the brawl in Cleveland played no factor in the quarterback change.

“It goes beyond just Mason and his performance," Tomlin said. "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."

Let’s get to the predictions:

Bears at Lions: Chicago 23-7. Rarely do we get a relevant Thanksgiving game in Detroit. A few weeks ago, this looked like a possibility. But now the Lions are 3-7-1 and the Bears are 5-6, three games back in the wild card.

Bills at Cowboys: Dallas 24-13. Jason Garrett might be more cooked than a Thanksgiving turkey if the Cowboys don’t beat Buffalo.

Saints at Falcons: New Orleans 41-14. The Saints are a quiet 9-2. Their remaining road games are Atlanta, Tennessee and Carolina. If New Orleans wins out, it’s the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Jetropolitans at Bengals: New York 26-10. Hey, who let the Jets off the mat? They are 4-7, the same record as the Chargers. Only two games out of the wild card. And they’ve got Miami next week. New York could be 6-7.

Titans at Colts: Indianapolis 19-17. Huge game. Four AFC teams are tied for the second wild card. These are two of them. 

Eagles at Dolphins: Philadelphia 27-13. Philly is a game behind Dallas in the NFC East, but outside of a December 22 home against the Cowboys, the Eagles’ final four opponents are Miami, Washington and the Giants twice.

Packers at Giants: Green Bay 24-16. Hard to picture the Packers as a contender after that 37-8 beatdown by the 49ers on Sunday night.

Browns at Steelers: Cleveland 27-14. No Garrett, no Rudolph, but bad blood will be flowing to the horses’ bridles.

Redskins at Panthers: Carolina 31-6. The Panthers have persevered without Cam Newton, but the playoffs aren’t on the horizon.

Buccaneers at Jaguars: Tampa Bay 29-21. Both teams are 4-7. The Bucs, you can understand. But Jacksonville? The Jags should be better than that.

49ers at Ravens: Baltimore 24-20. San Francisco sent people to bed early Sunday night with that 37-8 rout of Green Bay. Then the Ravens sent people to bed early Monday night with that 45-6 rout of the Rams. Fitting that King Kong plays Godzilla immediately after.

Rams at Cardinals: Los Angeles 21-19. You’ve got to love the NFL. The Rams were the golden children last February, in the Super Bowl. Arizona appeared to have the NFL’s worst roster in August. But if the 3-7-1 Cardinals win Sunday, they’re only a game-and-a-half behind the Rams.

Chargers at Broncos: Los Angeles 24-23. Some people say the 4-7 Chargers still can make a playoff run. But if Denver wins this game, these teams have the same record.

Raiders at Chiefs: Kansas City 31-16. Probably the last time an Oakland football team comes to Kansas City. Sort of sad.

Patriots at Texans: New England 24-12. Can the Patriots stay ahead of Baltimore for home-field advantage in the AFC? I would recommend it. The Patriots need all the help they can get.

Vikings at Seahawks: Seattle 26-24. Massive Monday night game. Winner seems a wild-card lock.

Last week: 10-4. Season: 114-61-1.

Related Photos
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) grounds the ball under pressure from Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson (58) during the first half an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) grounds the ball under pressure from Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson (58) during the first half an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-d3bb9204eb65b3aa519c1ff61ae53ecd.jpg" alt="Photo - Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) grounds the ball under pressure from Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson (58) during the first half an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)" title="Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) grounds the ball under pressure from Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson (58) during the first half an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)"><figcaption>Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) grounds the ball under pressure from Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson (58) during the first half an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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