By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — After talking with Ben Roethlisberger Thursday afternoon and watching him throw during the ensuing practice, one would get the impression that the veteran quarterback really wanted to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Baltimore Ravens Sunday 4:25 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium.
Whether he’s actually healthy enough to play in that game is another story. Roethlisberger has missed the past two games with rib and right shoulder injuries, but said his status has improved during that time off. He attempted to throw a few passes Wednesday during practice and wasn’t too sharp. He practiced on a limited basis Thursday as well and wasn’t much better.
“I’m doing OK,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s getting better. There’s always a chance that I’ll play. We’ll go out and evaluate it after (Thursday’s practice), but there’s always a chance. I can play through a lot of pain, so that’s a little bit of (a factor). But, mostly, it’s my ability to play. Can I make a long throw?
“Can I put a lot of zip on a ball and throw it really hard before people like Ed Reed and other defenders can get to the ball? If I can’t, then I’m not putting this team in the best situation to win the game. … The training staff and doctors have been great, helping me and working to get me back out there.”
When Roethlisberger last spoke to the media, he described an injury where one of his ribs nearly punctured his aorta. While he admitted that he was not yet at 100 percent, that part of his injury has healed.
“This game we play, I don’t think you’re ever completely safe,” Roethlisberger said. “But, according to them, it’s stable on the back side. That’s the posterior, I think, but anything can happen if you take a big hit. From what I understand, though, that part of it is OK. And I’m feeling a lot better this week.
“(But) we juiced up the shoulder pads a little bit and the training staff put some protective padding and kevlar stuff on the shoulder pads to help me out. I always wear rib protectors, but the extra stuff was put on the shoulder pads. I always want to play, no matter what, but not at the risk of hurting the team.
“I don’t want to go out there and play so bad to hurt the team,” Roethlisberger added. “That wouldn’t be good, but it’s been tough. If you’ve watched me these past couple games, I’ve been on the field probably more than most of the coaches, because I’m just antsy to be out there.”
While Roethlisberger has a high tolerance for pain, he ultimately believed that Tomlin would make the final decision on his playing status. If Roethlisberger does not play, Charlie Batch would get a second straight start. And despite his performance last week, Roethlisberger believed the Steelers have a lot of faith in the nearly 38-year-old veteran.
“They know what he’s capable of and that he’s been doing it a long time,” Roethlisberger said. “They respect him, and I think they’re ready to rise to the occasion. He holds himself to a high standard, like we all do.
“So, it doesn’t surprise me that he was disappointed with his play, because I know he wants to go out and play a great game. And he expects to do that. So, I expect a big bounce-back game from him if it’s that time.”
Some believe that Roethlisberger shouldn’t play this week no matter what. Beating the Ravens this week isn’t imperative for the Steelers, since it is unlikely that they would go on to win the AFC North. The most likely route to the playoffs for the Steelers is as a wild-card entrant, and to do that they would need to win the final four regular-season games.
If the Steelers lose to the Ravens to fall to 6-6, four straight wins to close the season would put them at 10-6 with two wins against the Cincinnati Bengals, their closest competitor for a wild-card spot. When Roethlisberger was injured last season, there were those who believed he should not have played in the game at San Francisco to be more healthy for a playoff run.
“I guess you could look at it in that way,” Roethlisberger said. “Last year at San Francisco, it’s been said that if I would have rested that game, maybe I would have been better during the final games last season. To me, I live for the here and now. I’m going to do everything I can to be out there.
“And if it doesn’t work then I’ll do what I can about the next week. I don’t know if I would have healed any better last year, if I would have sat out the San Francisco game, but who knows? … It doesn’t matter who it is, but it’s a divisional game, and it’s against Baltimore.
“So, there is some more motivation to get back for this game,” Roethlisberger added. “I’m going to be honest with Coach, and I think he knows that I’m going to be honest with him. I’m not going to go out there and tell him that I feel great if I don’t. So, I think a lot of it is going to come down to that as well.”
Note: Roethlisberger was listed as limited on Thursday’s practice report, as he spent the majority of the workout in the training room with an ice bag on his right shoulder.