PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mason Rudolph faintly remembers walking off the field in a daze. Everything else leading up to the hit the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback took from Baltimore's Earl Thomas on Oct. 6 that left Rudolph unconscious, his brain opted to delete.
Not that it matters. Rudolph watched the replay enough times over the past couple of weeks that it's imprinted in his memory anyway. Just don't expect it to affect the way he approaches his job when he returns to work on Oct. 28 against winless Miami.
"I'm going to go play the game I've always played and play with the aggressiveness and if I need to extend the play, that's what's going to happen," Rudolph said Monday, his first full day of practice after being cleared of the NFL's concussion protocol. "I'm not going to think twice about worrying about getting hit in the right spot. That's just the luck of the draw. It happened. It was a freak thing."
One that provided a violent reminder of how Rudolph chooses to make a living. Rudolph had just released a pass to teammate James Washington in the third quarter when Thomas slammed into him, the safety's helmet connecting with Rudolph's chin. Rudolph was out before his body hit the ground.
"The specialist said it kind of shut off my brain, not my spinal cord, but STEM (or) some high-ranking term above my pay grade," Rudolph said. "Shut me off real quick and it was the sweet spot. Shut me out black. Probably been hit like that many times but that's never happened. Kind of weird deal."
Medical attendants ended up unscrewing Rudolph's helmet while essentially giving him a diagnostics test as he lay on the Heinz Field turf. Though a cart was summoned to take Rudolph back to the locker room, he ended up — very slowly — walking off the field on his own. The fact the cart needed to be pushed off the field when it wouldn't re-start had nothing to do with the decision to let Rudolph be escorted to the sideline.
"There was plenty of memes about the cart not working but I wouldn't have needed to be in the cart because I had passed the tests on the ground," Rudolph said. "I would have walked off regardless of whether the cart was operational or not. I passed the tests on the ground so I was able to walk off. Of course I wanted to. I wouldn't have wanted to take a ride if I didn't have to."
Thomas was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play and later fined $21,000. Rudolph said he did hear from Thomas afterward, calling it "a classy thing."
Rudolph experienced what he called a "minor" headache the night after getting hurt but felt much improved the next day. He progressed quickly through the league's concussion protocol but was stopped just short of being cleared to play, rendering him a spectator on Oct. 13 as backup Devlin Hodges led the Steelers to a win in Los Angeles against the Chargers.
"The thought process from the specialist was, 'if you take a lesser hit, you could be out for longer. You could do damage,'" Rudolph said. "I was just more vulnerable at that point was the opinion of the specialist, so I didn't really have a choice. I didn't really want to, but I think (when) I look back at this 10 years down the road I'll be glad that I did sit out for a week. But I was not happy."
Hodges played efficiently in Rudolph's place, but Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made it clear before the Steelers headed into their bye week that Rudolph was the starter whenever he was given the OK. The Steelers (2-4) are well off the pace in the AFC North heading into a three-game homestand that starts next Monday against the winless Dolphins (0-6) and includes visits from AFC South-leading Indianapolis (4-2) and the Los Angeles Rams (4-3).
Rudolph is more worried about getting Pittsburgh's 28th-ranked offense going than he is about looking over his shoulder the next time he drops back to throw. He's aware he's putting himself at risk on every snap. It's part of the job. If he worries about getting hit, he's ignoring the task at hand.
"You can't play looking over your shoulder making sure you're not going to get blindsided," he said. "I'm not going to think twice about it."
NOTES: LB Anthony Chickillo was asked to stay away from the team's facility on Monday while the team continues to gather information following Chickillo's weekend arrest at a nearby resort following an altercation with his girlfriend. Chickillo is charged with simple assault, property damage and harassment after being taken into custody by Pittsburgh State Police at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. The 26-year-old was released on $10,000 unsecured bond. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 30. ... WR James Washington (shoulder) said he is feeling better and expects to be available against the Dolphins.