By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t certain when he was injured, when he was drilled by Kansas City outside linebacker Justin Houston or when he hit the ground, and the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback wasn’t sure when he would return to the starting lineup.
But Roethlisberger, who spoke with the media Wednesday afternoon, knew that the first rib dislocation that occurred was more serious than the sprained SC joint that also was a product of Houston’s sack. Roethlisberger said the pain-level was at nine on a scale of 1-10, and he also did not believe the injury could be season-ending.
“I don’t think so, but I don’t know,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m not a medical expect, but I’m just going to do whatever I can to get back as fast as I can. That’s pretty much what I understand (that the rib needs to heal before he can play again). … There was no issue with the rotator cuff, so that was good.
“When I hit the ground, that’s when I could feel that something just wasn’t right. It’s kind of hard to explain, because I kind of felt it all at once. I really don’t know if it was the hit or the landing, but I know I felt it most when I landed. (And) I got four hours of sleep the last two nights, sleeping in a chair, or trying to sleep in a chair. It’s very uncomfortable and painful.”
That’s why Roethlisberger said the rib injury is more of a concern than the SC joint, noting that his elbow pushed up into his body when he fell and it pushed on his aorta. Since it’s sore, Roethlisberger said he just tries to keep everything stabilized. that’s why he’s wearing a large sling over his right shoulder.
However, the injury is not expected to hamper Roethlisberger when his son is born later this week. He said he should be able to hold him.
“I better,” Roethlisberger said. “I’ve got one good arm.”
With Roethlisberger out of action for at least this week, the Steelers (6-3) will start almost 33-year-old Byron Leftwich at quarterback against the Baltimore Ravens (7-2) Sunday night at 8:20 at Heinz Field. Nearly 38-year-old Charlie Batch will be the backup. Roethlisberger described the duo as having 35 years of quarterback experience.
Despite being brought in to back up Roethlisberger in 2008, Leftwich has not started an NFL game since he opened three games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009. Leftwich returned to the Steelers, but was injured in the preseason and played in just one game late in 2010.
Batch started the four games during Roethlisberger’s suspension to open that season. Leftwich played in five games for the Steelers in 2008, and his other game was against the Kansas City Chiefs Monday night. He was 7-for-14 for 73 yards. So, he’s played in seven regular-season games, but this is his first start.
“It’s exciting to get an opportunity to go out there with the Mike Wallaces of the world, the Emmanuel Sanders, the Heath Millers, to have an opportunity to get the ball to these guys,” Leftwich said. “Just to play with this caliber team gives me comfort, understanding who I’m going out there with. This isn’t the ‘Bad News Bears.’ That gives me comfort with the playmakers we have around me.
“(But) it’s always better when you can prepare, especially when you’re the backup because you never get any reps. To have the opportunity during the week to prepare will help. We understand we have a tough opponent coming in here Sunday night. We respect those guys. They’re going to come in here ready to play, (so) we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to play, too.”
During his previous eight seasons in the NFL, the Steelers are 9-5 overall without Roethlisberger at quarterback. That record includes an 0-4 mark against the Baltimore Ravens.
As The Ankle Turns
Wideout Antonio Brown, who has a left high-ankle sprain that looks like a baseball is attached to his foot, was among a long list of Steelers who did not practice Wednesday. However, Brown said he is hopeful that the swelling will dissipate by Friday so he can practice then and play Sunday night.
“All you can do is ice it, elevate it and let it heal,” Brown said. “I definitely feel a lot better from where I was last week. It was pretty bad when it happened, but I’m making some great progress. I don’t know how I’ll feel later in the week, but I hope to be good enough to practice.”
Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer could get an addition to their backfield, as Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) practiced on a full-time basis Wednesday and expected to play against the Ravens.
“I feel really good today, but I’m still taking it one day at a time,” Mendenhall said. “I don’t know how I’ll feel at the end of the week, but I feel really good right now. I’m working hard, rehabbing my injury, and I was able to practice today. So, we’ll see what happens later in the week.”
Despite two concussions in two weeks (three games), Steelers free safety Ryan Clark practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and said he expects to play Sunday. First, Clark must pass one more concussion test Thursday.
“I’m doing my best to take hits the right way, but what happens in a game is what happens in a game,” Clark said. “I feel good. I felt a lot worse, physically, after the Washington game, with the headaches and soreness. But this one wasn’t anything like that. I even remember the play when it happened. I knew it happened, but I guess I just caught it in the right spot, or the wrong spot.
“So, I’m trying to take more precautions now. I’ve changed my helmet. Look at this thing, how ugly it is and how big it is, but it ranks No. 1 in concussion tests. I changed the inside of it. Hopefully, all this helps. I just talked with the specialist (Wednesday) and asked what I could do differently. I’ve gone 11 years and didn’t have any concussions, and now I’ve had two in (two) weeks.
“They reviewed both hits and said that a lot of times, when you get the impact to the side of your head, it doesn’t have to be hard,” Clark added. “I can do neck-strengthening exercises, but sometimes you just can’t help it. So, it’s all about getting into the right position. … We got the play in late, made a late call, and I just dove out to make a play. So, it happened. (And) the first one wasn’t related to the other one, but they are more concerned with me getting two.”
Head coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers’ offensive game plan will have only subtle changes against the Ravens to accommodate Leftwich.
“That’s just to lean on his strengths and minimize his weaknesses,” Tomlin said. “But it’s not anything complex in that regard. He’s a veteran guy. This is not his first rodeo. He’s got good, charismatic leadership, and he can make all the throws on the field. So, we expect winning football from him.”
Notes: Steelers who did not practice Wednesday: WR Brown, QB Roethlisberger, LB Chris Carter (abdomen), OT Marcus Gilbert (ankle), DE Brett Keisel (shoulder), SS Troy Polamalu (right calf) and OT Max Starks (ankle). CB Curtis Brown (quad), Clark and CB Ike Taylor (illness) were limited, while Mendenhall and LB Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) were full-time participants.
For the Ravens, WR Jacoby Jones (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (abdomen), and OG Marshal Yanda (ankle) did not practice. DE Pernell McPhee (thigh), DT Haloti Ngata (shoulder), WR Torrey Smith (chest) and OG Bobbie Williams (ankle) were limited. And S Sean Considine (knee, chest), LB Dannell Ellerbe (finger), S Bernard Pollard (chest) and RB Ray Rice (toe) practiced on a full-time basis.