“MADDEN” VOY­AGES

Big Ben’s shoul­der also a sore sub­ject for Bron­cos de­fend­ers

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Cameron Wolfe

Not many quar­ter­backs are formed from the same mold as the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers’ Ben Roeth­lis­berger.

He has earned a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the tough­est guys in the NFL. He takes a lot of pride in bat­tling back from in­juries. He’ll try to do it again Sun­day in a divi­sional play­off game against the Bron­cos at Sports Au­thor­ity Field at Mile High.

Roeth­lis­berger suf­fered a sep­a­rated shoul­der and torn lig­a­ments in his right throw­ing shoul­der Satur­day night at Cincin­nati. Ini­tially, he feared it was a sea­son-end­ing in­jury, which would have been a crip­pling blow to the Steel­ers’ Su­per Bowl hopes.

“You see so many times quar­ter­backs or play­ers in gen­eral land

on that shoul­der and some­thing bad hap­pens,” Roeth­lis­berger said on a con­fer­ence call Wed­nes­day. “As soon as I hit the ground, I felt some­thing kind of crunch. It didn’t feel good.”

Roeth­lis­berger was able to re­turn on the Steel­ers’ fi­nal, gamewin­ning field-goal drive. He was lim­ited to pitch and catch, though, and was not able to throw the ball deep.

Eight days of re­cov­ery won’t fully heal Roeth­lis­berger’s shoul­der. He ex­pects to be lim­ited Sun­day, which will add to the chal­lenge of fac­ing Den­ver’s topranked de­fense. The Bron­cos aren’t buy­ing any of it, though.

“Ben can say what­ever he wants,” Bron­cos cor­ner­back Aqib Talib said. “He has torn bursa sacs, and he’ll be there. We know Ben. We know you’ll be there, Ben.”

Both of Den­ver’s start­ing safeties, Dar­ian Ste­wart and T.J. Ward, missed the Dec. 20 game when the teams met at Pitts­burgh.

The Bron­cos’ sec­ondary points to im­proved health and bet­ter tack­ling as rea­sons Sun­day’s re­sult should be dif­fer­ent.

“They’re No. 1 (in to­tal de­fense) for a rea­son,” Roeth­lis­berger said. “We didn’t face them at full strength. We know that. That’s why we got lucky last time.”

Ward is ex­pected to be close to 100 per­cent af­ter bat­tling a high an­kle sprain over the last month. Ste­wart still is deal­ing with a ham­string in­jury but said he hopes to play Sun­day. The re­turn of Ward and Ste­wart presents a new chal­lenge for Pitts­burgh.

The Steel­ers caught the Bron­cos in Pitts­burgh at their weak­est point. Roeth­lis­berger was the only quar­ter­back this sea­son to throw for more than 300 yards against the Bron­cos. Den­ver cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris had ar­guably the worst game of his ca­reer cov­er­ing Steel­ers re­ceiver An­to­nio Brown.

This time, Roeth­lis­berger could be with­out two of his top weapons. Brown is go­ing through the NFL con­cus­sion pro­to­col and did not prac­tice Wed­nes­day. Also, run­ning back DeAn­gelo Wil­liams in­jured his right foot in the reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale at Cleve­land. Wil­liams re­mained in a walk­ing boot Wed­nes­day and did not prac­tice.

Steel­ers coach Mike Tom­lin said his team has “been hard­ened by the jour­ney.”

Roeth­lis­berger didn’t prac­tice Wed­nes­day. The deep ball is what makes the Steel­ers’ of­fense so ex­plo­sive. How much strength Roeth­lis­berger can re­gain in his throw­ing shoul­der by Sun­day re­mains a ques­tion.

“Our of­fense has mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties,” Roeth­lis­berger said. “If I can’t throw the ball more than 30 yards, then I’ve got to tell Coach, and he’s go­ing to have to make a de­ci­sion.”

Even if Roeth­lis­berger can throw the ball only 5 yards, he will prob­a­bly play against Den­ver. The threat is still real for the Bron­cos. They know what Roeth­lis­berger can do.

“It’s like a de­fen­sive end there play­ing quar­ter­back,” Bron­cos nose tackle Sylvester Wil­liams said about Roeth­lis­berger, who is 6-foot-5, 241 pounds. “I know he’s go­ing to be at his best. I can prom­ise you that.”

The lo­ca­tion of the game and health of both teams paint a far dif­fer­ent pic­ture from the first matchup.

“It’s dif­fer­ent,” Tom­lin said. “It’s go­ing to be a tall task for us. There are a lot of things that are un­known as I sit here to­day.”

Pitts­burgh Steel­ers quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger, left, watches the of­fense set up a drill Wed­nes­day as wide re­ceiver Mar­tavius Bryant takes his po­si­tion. Backup quar­ter­back Landry Jones got most of the snaps in prac­tice. Gene J. Puskar, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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