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