The moment was terrifying, especially for Mason Rudolph’s teammates, who gathered around him as he lay on the turf at Heinz Field, knocked out cold on Sunday afternoon.
“His eyes were open and he was breathing, but he wasn’t there,” Alejandro Villanueva said (via the Post-Gazette) of Rudolph. “He wasn’t moving. I knew it was a medical emergency.”
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 taken to a Pittsburgh hospital for evaluation for what the team said was a concussion and, according to ESPN and the NFL Network, was released Sunday evening.
“You’re just waiting, waiting, waiting for him to get up,” 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.”
As 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.
[Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes gimpy after tweaking ankle in loss to Colts]
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.
Mason Rudolph is out cold 👀 pic.twitter.com/OFjcR8kjIO
— Sportacus (@IamSportacus33) October 6, 2019
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.”
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.”