With one sack of Ben Roethlisberger, the tenor of Sunday’s prime-time matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ravens has changed.
Roethlisberger left in the third quarter of a 16-13 overtime victory against the Kansas City Chiefs with an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder when he was sandwiched by linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.
He appeared unable to lift it, left Heinz Field for an MRI and was replaced by Byron Leftwich. If Roethlisberger’s shoulder is separated, it doesn’t bode well for a team that already has been without safety Troy Polamalu (calf) and lost safety Ryan Clark with a head injury during the Chiefs game.
Roethlisberger was 9-for-18 for 84 yards and one touchdown before leaving the game. Leftwich finished 7-for-14 for 74 yards. Two of the next three games for the Steelers (6-3) are against the Ravens (7-2), who lead the AFC North.
“The great thing about Byron is he’s got a very consistent demeanor, a very calming presence,” said Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, who refused to speculate about not having Roethlisberger going forward. “It wasn’t a pretty body of work by any of us, but his consistency remains the same in terms of being a stabilizing force for us. We appreciate him.”
They have five division games remaining, including matchups vs. the San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys. If Roethlisberger has more than a mild separation, the time he'd miss would be significant.
“Ben Roethlisberger’s injury is bigger than this game. They got away with the win against a poor team,” analyst Trent Dilfer, the quarterback who led the Ravens to their only Super Bowl title, said on ESPN after the game. “The Pittsburgh Steelers are trying to win the Super Bowl. … You lose a guy like this and you have Baltimore coming up twice on your schedule, you’re trying to win the division get home-field, this could be a season-defining injury if it is the second degree-type separated shoulder.”
Fellow analyst Steve Young weighed in how going with Leftwich severely alters Pittsburgh’s game plan for Baltimore and beyond.
“He’s got to make some throws. You eliminate all kinds of plays in your playbook because Ben is a little more nifty in the pocket, outside the pocket, on the move,” he said. “You’re not going to get everything, obviously, with Byron Leftwich but you can see a veteran player making big throws in big moments so that’s the positive of having a guy like that that’s been around a while.”
There is a chance Roethlisberger could try and play, but that wouldn’t be easy.
“If he does try to man up and play next week … every time you fall on your right side any way like this, it can get re-injured so easily. I can’t see this being a short-term thing,” said Dilfer, who claims to have had multiple separations. “He’s as tough as a guy as there is in this league playing quarterback, based on my history -- I’ve had 11 of them -- I don’t see this being a short-term injury.”