Who would have thought before the season started that the Pittsburgh Steelers game tonight against the San Francisco 49ers would be a huge deciding game as far as it relates to the Steelers ability to take control of the AFC, and perhaps home field advantage throughout the playoffs? Who would have thought that the 49ers would be 10-3 at this point of season with their own destiny in their hands as far as a first round bye of their own goes? Who would have thought that the 49ers would be the home favorite in this game and that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would be a game-time decision after suffering a high ankle sprain against the Cleveland Browns of all teams? I will tell you who! NOBODY!
The game tonight against the 49ers has quite a bit riding on it, as not only are the Steelers chances of getting home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but the health the rest of the way of Roethlisberger in addition. As important as the game might be in light of the losses suffered on Sunday by the Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans, it is not and should not be considered a “must win” game. While it certainly will be nice if the Steelers take care of business, there are still two games remaining in the season and the overall health of Roethlisberger is the biggest “must win” if the Steelers hope to make a run to Indianapolis.
Many have pondered that the decision to start a less than 100% Roethlisberger would be decided by the outcome of the Ravens game last night against the San Diego Chargers. That is the stupidest thing that I have heard all year in my opinion. The decision to start or sit Roethlisberger will be made if Roethlisberger himself is healthy to play and be effective. Mike Tomlin said as much last Tuesday in his press conference when asked if the status of Roethlisberger playing or not playing Monday night depended on playoff circumstances and Tomlin said, “If he’s healthy enough to play, he’ll play. I don’t play that game.” I firmly believe Tomlin and there is no reason not to.
Let\’s face the facts here. The way Roethlisberger plays will always make him susceptible to injury, as he extends the play like no other quarterback in the league can. He will always take too many sacks regardless of the offensive line in front of him and he will always be nicked up throughout every season, as it is unavoidable. He will always attempt to play if he can stand on two legs and the coaching staff will always give him the benefit of the doubt if he thinks he can play while less than 100%.
Should indeed Roethlisberger start tonight and the Steelers lose, or worse, Roethlisberger does even more damage to his ankle, Tomlin will be Tuesday morning quarterbacked to death. The only way both Roethlisberger and Tomlin win here is if the Steelers win the game and Roethlisberger makes it though it without causing more damage, and even then some will second guess the decision to play him.
Should things not go the way of the Steelers tonight, remember that the decision made on who starts at quarterback will be made with only one determining factor. That factor will be because Tomlin thinks Roethlisberger is healthy enough to play and I assure you that the Ravens, Texans and home field advantage will be the furthest thing from his mind. Who would have thought that? Really, everyone should have.