Finally, after a few moments, the woozy quarterback helped off the field by Pittsburgh Steelers players and staffers. Compounding the frightening scene was the team’s inability to get the medical cart onto the field, a failure that left Rudolph to wobble off as fans and TV viewers watched. The situation brought criticism from the NFL Players Association; the problem stemmed from operator error and not a mechanical issue, according to the Post-Gazette, which reported that the NFL had called Steelers officials to investigate.
Rudolph was released Sunday evening from a Pittsburgh hospital to which he had been taken after the game, and on Monday, he was back at the Steelers’ training facility.
“To see him in person and see him doing a lot better than yesterday is a good sign,” Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward said. (via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review).
Rudolph was reportedly evaluated at the hospital for what the team said was a concussion. He must pass the NFL’s concussion protocol before he is allowed back onto the field.
Sunday’s injury occurred when Rudolph ran from the pocket midway through the third quarter. The 24-year-old quarterback left his feet to throw, completing a 26-yard pass, but his helmet and face mask were struck by Baltimore safety Earl Thomas’s helmet. As Rudolph fell limply to the ground, the back of his helmet smacked the turf.
“You’re just waiting, waiting, waiting for him to get up,” Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro told the Post-Gazette. “It took a little longer than I expected. The seconds turn into minutes and the minutes turn into longer … Your stomach just drops. You feel sick.”
A medical cart came onto the field, but Rudolph was helped to his feet and unsteadily was walked off, with Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster fighting back tears and Ryan Shazier, the Steelers linebacker who has not played since suffering a spinal injury during a December 2017 game, looking on from the sideline.
The cart’s breakdown was embarrassing and, although it did not appear to affect Rudolph’s condition it did not escape the notice of the NFLPA, with George Atallah, the assistant executive director of external affairs for the union, tweeting: “Embarrassing. I guess $15 billion a year [the NFL’s revenue last year] can’t buy you a working medical cart.”
Thomas, who was flagged for roughing the passer, admitted that he was concerned about Rudolph. “I hit the strike zone like we talk about,” he told reporters. “I didn’t go high. I didn’t intentionally try to hurt him. 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.”
Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said Monday (via NBC Sports Washington) that he would be surprised if Thomas received additional punishment from the NFL. Harbaugh described the play as an “unfortunate collision,” in which Thomas “ticked his chin.”
“I see Earl trying to pull off,” the coach said at a news conference. “There’s no question about it if you watch the tape. It’s clear. … [Thomas] felt bad about it, the result of it. He didn’t want to see an injury, none of us do.”
Steelers offensive lineman Zach Banner tweeted Sunday evening that he had been in contact with Rudolph. “Mason and I talked over the phone. For however many seconds, I was scared about losing my friend, and then God answered my prayers,” he wrote. “I love you @Rudolph2Mason. Get better!”
A second-year quarterback out of Oklahoma State, Rudolph has been Pittsburgh’s starter since Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury Sept. 15. Rudolph has completed 63 of 94 passes for 646 yards and seven touchdowns. Undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges replaced Rudolph on Sunday, and the Steelers lost to the Ravens, 26-23, in overtime, with Hodges completing 7 of 9 passes for 68 yards.
“Mason’s my guy,” Hodges said after the game. “He’s one of my closer friends on the team. He’s really taken me in. When you saw me standing on the sideline just standing there [momentarily], it wasn’t 'cause I was freaking out about me going in. I was just thinking about Mason: ‘What’s up with him? Is he okay?’ Because there for a minute, he was just laying there. He wasn’t even moving. That’s tough to look at.”