PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger can hold his newborn son Ben Jr. in his injured right arm just fine, thanks. When the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback will be able to say the same about a football, even he’s not sure. Roethlisberger practiced in a limited role Thursday and appears a long shot to return for Sunday’s game in Baltimore. “There’s always a chance,” Roethlisberger offered somewhat hopefully. The lengthy list of issues still plaguing Roethlisberger more than two weeks after he sprained his right shoulder and suffered a dislocated rib suggests he’s still a week away from giving it a go.
Though the pain isn’t quite as intense as it was in the days after Kansas City linebacker Tamba Hali drilled Roethlisberger into the soggy Heinz Field turf, the two-time Super Bowl winner can still only sleep in certain positions at night. And while he’s tested the shoulder this week, he’s uncertain if he can make all the throws necessary to attack Baltimore’s secondary.
“Can I put a lot of zip on the ball, throw it really hard before people like Ed Reed and defenders can get to the ball?” Roethlisberger said. “If I can’t I’m not putting us in the best situation to win the game.”
The Steelers (6-5) have struggled in Roethlisberger’s absence, needing overtime to beat the woeful Chiefs before looking listless at times and sloppy at others in losses to Baltimore and Cleveland. A season that looked promising after a 24-20 win over the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants in New Jersey on Nov. 4 is suddenly on very shaky ground.
Still, don’t expect Roethlisberger to push too quickly. It’s something he’s done in the past, with less than desired results. He played on a battered right ankle in San Francisco last year, limping around in a 20-3 loss. He ended up sitting out the next week and wasn’t the same when he returned.
“We’ve had people talk about last year in San Francisco, if I would have rested maybe I would have been better off the next couple games but to me, I live for the here and now,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to be out there and if it doesn’t work then I’ll do what I can about the next week.”
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said Roethlisberger threw “a little bit” on Thursday but the team continues to prepare as if Charlie Batch will make his second straight start. Batch completed 20 of 34 passes for 199 yards and three costly interceptions against the Browns, mistakes Haley attributed to rusty timing more than physical ability.
“I don’t think there’s any limitations to what Chuck can do,” Haley said, “or needs to do with the guys we have.”
Roethlisberger remains optimistic Batch can muster some of the magic that helped him lead the Steelers to three victories since 2010 while filling in for his good friend.
“I firmly believe that,” Roethlisberger said. “They know what he’s capable of. He’s been doing it a long time. They respect him. I think he’s ready to rise to the occasion.”
Something the Steelers need to do if they want to build any momentum going into the final quarter of the season. A loss in a place they struggle to play well in — no matter who is behind the center — would leave them with no wiggle room whenever Roethlisberger gets back to work.
The game’s importance is not lost on Roethlisberger, who will wear “juiced up” pads to protect his shoulder, though doctors have told him the dislocated rib no longer poses a threat to his aorta.
That’s welcome news for a guy in the first days of fatherhood. Roethlisberger called being a dad “pretty cool” and while he’s enjoyed the time at home, he’s also eager to go back to his job. If he doesn’t play on Sunday he’ll do what he’s done the last two weeks and stand on the sideline — earbuds in place — and provide the kind of insight Batch has imparted on him so many times though the years.
“It’s hard for me,” Roethlisberger said. “You watched me during these games. I’ve been on the field more than most of the coaches because I’m just antsy to get out there.”
That anxiousness, however, figures to be around for at least another week.