If the undrafted rookie was nervous, he didn’t show it.
Surrounded by a crowd filled with Steelers fans, Hodges went 15-for-20 for 132 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the Steelers’ 24-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. It was his first NFL victory and Pittsburgh’s second win of the season.
Leading 24-0 for most of the game, the Steelers had to hold off a fourth-quarter surge by the Chargers, who scored 17 unanswered points.
Down to its third-string quarterback after season-ending elbow surgery to Ben Roethlisberger and a concussion to backup Mason Rudolph, the Steelers topped the woeful Chargers thanks in large part to their level-headed newbie and a game-sealing interception by Cameron Sutton.
QB breakdown: Hodges didn’t put up eye-popping numbers in his first start, but he did exactly what the Steelers needed. He made good decisions on his reads and often opted for short screen passes that running back James Conner turned into big gains. Similar to the early game plans with Rudolph at quarterback, the Steelers let the receivers do most of the work. In the first half, Hodges was averaging 3.1 air yards per attempt, and 66 of his 70 pass yards have been after-the-catch, per Next Gen Stats. That number increased to 5.1 air yards per attempt overall. Hodges was also more effective than quarterback Philip Rivers on short passes in the first half. He went 5-for-5 for 63 yards and a touchdown on passes that traveled fewer than 5 yards downfield, while Rivers was just 2-for-7 for 12 yards and an interception, per Next Gen Stats. Hodges’ night wasn’t perfect, though. He threw his first career interception in the fourth quarter, an error the Chargers turned into seven points on the ensuing drive.
Buy this breakout performance: Devin Bush. The rookie linebacker faced a steep learning curve early in the season, but he has been trending up. That trend hit a steep incline Sunday night when Bush scored the first points of the game on a scoop-and-score in the first quarter. Chargers running back Melvin Gordon fumbled a backward pass, and the ball bounced to the turf. While most everyone else on the field watched the loose ball, Bush recognized the fumble and picked it up, running it 9 yards into the end zone. Bush ended the next drive, too, with his second interception in as many games. Bush became the first Steeler to record a touchdown, interception and fumble recovery in the same game since Deshea Townsend in 2003 Week 16 against the Chargers. Bush briefly exited the game in the first half with what appeared to be an ankle injury, but returned after being tended to on the sideline. After recording his first career sack against the Bengals and his first interception against the Ravens, Sunday night’s game was a sign that Bush is putting it all together. And with the Steelers going into a bye week, Bush will have plenty of time to heal before taking on the Dolphins in a Monday Night Football meeting.
Promising trend: The run game thrived without Jaylen Samuels. Conner turned in his most balanced performance of the season with 41 yards on 16 carries and seven receptions for 78 yards. He also had a receiving and a rushing touchdown — the first time in his career that he has had both. Conner was especially important for Hodges in the screen game, allowing the short passes to turn into sizable games. Rookie Benny Snell also thrived, leading the team in rushing with 75 yards. With a giant contribution from Snell, Conner and the offensive line stepped up to the challenge, though, milking the clock for the better part of three quarters against the Chargers. With the dominant run game, the Steelers led in time of possession 33:24-25:55 — a margin that was wider before the Chargers’ strong fourth quarter.