Playing a game without Ben Roethlisberger is a painful.
Big Ben himself is in considerable pain, and that was blatantly clear as he hobbled his way through a crushing loss Monday night to San Francisco. So there’s the literal pain of his wonky ankle, one that required the Steelers quarterback to heavily ice the injury follow Monday’s game, and briefly rely on the wall for walking support in the locker room. Whenever you’re leaning on a wall for support and you’re completely sober, that’s bad.
Figuratively, and perhaps more importantly, having Roethlisberger sit will hurt a team that’s already aging, and is tempted to press for the division title and a shot at a playoff bye week, as slim as the odds of getting that extra week off may be at this point.
But shutting him down this week is the proper, logical, and sensible decision, and it’s thankfully one that management is reportedly leaning towards. NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora reports that team officials would be “shocked” if Roethlisberger plays against the Rams on Christmas Eve, adding that there’s also a strong possibility he watches from the sideline for the rest of the regular season. The latter report is news to Roethlisberger, who insists that his ankle isn’t in worse shape after Monday.
While it’s difficult to be be confident in Charlie Bath and/or Dennis Dixon, playing Roethlisberger Monday may have hurt Pittsburgh’s chances, and his condition won’t improve vastly after a short week following a cross-country beating.
In a city steeped in a mentality of toughness and seemingly powered by testosterone, Roethlisberger is spoken of as some kind of medical demigod, and an experiment by the heavens who can play through any bruise or busted bone. It’s fun to maintain that narrative, and it makes for perfect television soliloquies and brave montages mixed with frenzied towel waving. He’s still just a man, albeit a very talented and elite man, but one who still bleeds.
Yes, Pittsburgh, your hero is a human, and he looked quite mortal Monday when he threw three interceptions. It was just the second time this year he’s thrown more than one interception in a game, and over Pittsburgh’s previous eight games he had throw only five. His quarterback rating was only 52.3, which was just the 11th time over Roethlisberger’s 112 career starts that his rating has dropped below 55 in a game.
The Ravens swept the Steelers this year, meaning they hold the tiebreaker between the two teams currently with identical 10-4 records atop the AFC North. Even with Batch or Dixon starting, Pittsburgh should easily beat the Browns and Rams by relying on Rashard Mendenhall and the running game against the two worst run defenses in the league that are allowing a combined 149.4 yards per game on the ground.
Too bad the Ravens also have the Browns lined up, followed by Cinncinati, a division rival they beat 31-24 in Week 11. So there’s a chance the Steelers could still have a home playoff game if they win out, and if the Bengals can split their season series with Baltimore. But the odds are far too slim to justify slowing Roethlisberger further, and drastically shortening the Steelers’ playoff run.