Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No. 7 looms as No. 1 in toughness

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 13: Ben Roethlisberger(notes) #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on November 13, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Steelers won 24-17. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The news out of Houston is not good. Quarterback Matt Schaub has a fractured right foot and will miss the rest of the season. The Texans, who would be the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs if they started today, are left with Matt Leinart -- a first-round draft bust in 2006 -- to guide their team down the stretch.

The news out of Kansas City is not good. Quarterback Matt Cassel could miss the rest of the season with a "significant" right hand injury. The Chiefs, very much alive in the AFC West Division race despite a 4-5 record, must turn to Tyler Palko, who has played sparingly in just four NFL games and thrown 13 passes since leaving Pitt after the '06 season.

The news out of Pittsburgh is not good. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a broken right thumb and is expected to miss ...

Not one game.

Not one play.


Even Roethlisberger's harshest critics have to admit he is as tough as any NFL player. If you want to call him the toughest, you'll get no argument here. It's hard to say with any certainty that he would keep playing with Schaub's injury or Cassel's. But would you bet against him?

"You know me, if I can be out there, I'll be out there," Roethlisberger often has said. "I'm always going to fight for my guys right up to the time they carry me off on a stretcher."

That happened once. It's surprising it hasn't happened a bunch of times, considering Roethlisberger has been sacked 336 times -- including postseason games -- and hit countless other times in his 7 1/2-year career. In the final regular-season game in '08 against Cleveland, he was carted off with a concussion. You might remember him giving the thumb's up signal with his left arm to the Heinz Field crowd. He played two weeks later in the first playoff game and ended up leading the Steelers to the Super Bowl XLIII title, winning the game in the final seconds with a pretty sweet pass to wide receiver Santonio Holmes at the end of a pretty sweet drive.

Roethlisberger has missed just six of 134 games because of injury or illness. There have been many times when we've wondered how he picked himself up off the ground -- or a hospital bed -- to play:

• In '06, Roethlisberger had an emergency appendectomy and played against the Jacksonville Jaguars 15 days later. Earlier that summer, he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident.

• In '06, Roethlisberger had a concussion against the Atlanta Falcons and played the next week against the Oakland Raiders.

• In '06 -- it was a really tough year -- Roethlisberger was sacked nine times in a game at Baltimore, including once by linebacker Bart Scott, who bragged he could feel the air rushing out of the quarterback's body. Roethlisberger finished that game and still says it was the hardest he has been hit.

• In '10, Roethlisberger broke his right foot in a game at Buffalo and played the next week at Baltimore.

• In that Baltimore game, Roethlisberger broke his nose on a hit by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata early in the first quarter and finished the game, leading the Steelers to a win late in the fourth quarter. "I look like I went 12 rounds with Pacquiao," he said afterward. Much later he said of that night, "What makes me smile about it is I know people from Homestead, McKeesport, places all over the city ... real Steelers fans everywhere were watching and saw the blood all over the place. I hope they said, 'That's our guy. He's one of us. He never came out. He never quit. He's pretty tough.' "

• This season, Roethlisberger was sacked five times -- six if you count a play that was nullified by a penalty -- in the game at Houston. Teammates said they could hear him screaming after a hit on his right knee in the fourth quarter. He hobbled out of the stadium that day on crutches with his left foot in a walking boot. He played the next week against Tennessee and threw five touchdown passes.

It is worth repeating:


Starting with that Tennessee game, Roethlisberger has played the best football of his career. It's no coincidence the Steelers went 5-1 in that stretch to take first place in the AFC North Division. In those six games, he threw for more than 300 yards three times and had 13 touchdown passes with just four interceptions. The loss hardly was his fault; his 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace on a fabulous play late in the fourth quarter against Baltimore Nov. 6 gave the Steelers a 20-16 lead. The defense allowed the Ravens to drive 92 yards for the winning score in the final 2 1/2 minutes.

There's no reason to think Roethlisberger won't be just as effective when the Steelers next play Nov. 27 at Kansas City.

A broken thumb on his throwing hand would stop a lot of quarterbacks.

Not this guy.

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. More articles by this author

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