Monday, January 02, 2012

Limited by his 'awesome' ankle, Ben Roethlisberger content with passing grade in Pittsburgh's victory

By Jodie Valade, The Plain Dealer
January 2, 2012

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 01: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws to a receiver as Ramon Foster #73 blocks defensive lineman Phil Taylor #98 of the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Ben Roethlisberger didn't limp his way to his locker. The quarterback's tender left ankle wasn't too swollen to slip into his slick, leather boots, and it wasn't too sore for him to stand as he spoke following Sunday's 13-9 triumph over the Browns.

The high ankle sprain that the Steelers QB suffered the last time he faced Cleveland on Dec. 8, which forced him out of last week's game against St. Louis, wasn't so painful that he couldn't be on the field Sunday. It could, in fact, be summed up with one word.

"Awesome," said Roethlisberger, flashing his toothy grin.

It was sarcasm from a tough competitor. Pittsburgh had to hope Cincinnati could topple Baltimore to capture the AFC North title Sunday, which didn't happen. But although the Steelers' fate wasn't entirely in their own hands, Roethlisberger still played with a brace on his left ankle.

He wasn't spectacular. He wasn't terrible. But Roethlisberger wanted to test his ability before the playoffs, and he delivered the same gritty performance he often has in his Steelers career, completing 23 of 40 passes for 221 yards.

"I didn't really know what to expect," he said, "but I'm still standing here."

His mobility was limited, and he was sacked twice. But he also led Pittsburgh on two decisive scoring drives in the third quarter that meant the difference in the outcome.

"I'd give myself a C-minus," Roethlisberger said. "So would you call that below average? Or is that average? I don't know, I wasn't very good at school."

Whatever the case, it was another victory for the Steelers, who have dominated the old rivalry. Roethlisberger, the Findlay native who attended Miami, is 14-1 against his home-state Browns.

Roethlisberger was at his best just after halftime, when the Steelers faced a 6-3 deficit. He completed three passes on the opening drive of the third quarter, setting up Shaun Suisham for a 29-yard field goal.

One series later, after safety Troy Polamalu's interception put the ball on the Cleveland 43, Roethlisberger's passes to Antonio Brown and Hines Ward preceded Isaac Redman's seven-yard touchdown run that gave the Steelers a 13-6 edge.

"You can't tell [he's hurt]," Brown said. "You have no clue. Everyone's going out there with something wrong with them. We've just got to be able to persevere."

Roethlisberger said his ankle felt better than two weeks ago against San Francisco, when he completed 56.8 percent of his passes in a 20-3 loss. But he would have preferred to have next week off to rest instead of preparing to play at Denver in the first round of the playoffs.

"Of course he's not 100 percent, but there are many guys out there at this time of year who aren't," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "That's the nature of the game, particularly at this time of year."

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