Was Hines Ward shrewdly benched?

I continue my pattern of asking questions (rhetorical or otherwise) in headlines by wondering aloud whether the Steelers are benching Hines Ward in a creative, respectful way.

From Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via the Boston Globe:

“I probably could have forced it and played but we have some great wideouts,” Ward said. “I wasn’t really concerned. And against the Patriots, we felt we could exploit their secondary. That wasn’t the same secondary that we played against a year ago without having [James Sanders], [Brandon Meriweather] wasn’t back there and they let Leigh Bodden go. We kind of liked our matchups. So there was no need for me to try to force it and go.”

Sounds like that’s how the team framed it, when in reality they may be realizing that they’re more effective offensively with Ward out of the lineup and making room for Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown.

If any team’s going to be overly polite about benching a revered player, it’s the Steelers.

And if my conspiracy theory is true, it’s another sign that the 35-year-old Ward, who is having his worst season since he was a rookie in 1998, is close to the end.