The Pittsburgh Steelers secured for themselves an important victory yesterday that brings them back inside the bubble for a playoff spot eight weeks from now, but in so doing, they ended up losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to injury yet again, and will have to make do, at least temporarily, without him.
The 12th-year veteran was injured for the second time this season in the process of being sacked, in this case after Raiders outside linebacker Aldon Smith beat first-year offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva midway into the fourth quarter as the burly edge rusher came down on his foot.
While the extent of his recovery period is yet to be determined, and depends in large part upon how his foot responds to treatment, initial tests suggest that he has escaped significant harm, but he figures to be out for at least the Steelers’ next game heading into the bye week, and potentially longer.
The Steelers have unfortunately already had ample experience working without some of its star players on offense this season, with Roethlisberger himself missing four games—the longest he has been out due to injury in his career—with a sprained MCL and a bone bruise in his knee.
Incredibly, all does not seem lost, especially in light of yesterday’s showing, in which All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown and reserve running back DeAngelo Williams combined accounted for more than 500 yards of offense, two touchdowns, a two-point conversion, and the set up for the game-winning field goal.
And Roethlisberger’s replacement—this time Landry Jones, rather than Mike Vick—has shown more capable of actually taking advantage of the weapons around him, even if the Steelers lost his lone start in which he threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on a sack.
Perhaps their greatest fortune is that their new opponent is the bottom-feeding 2-7 Cleveland Browns, one of just two teams currently to be just one loss away from guaranteeing a non-winning season this early into the year.
The Browns have the third-worst points differential in the league, having been outscored by their opponents this year by 70 points. They rank 28th in the league on offense, scoring just 19.7 points per game, and 26th defensively, allowing 27.4 points per game.
If the Steelers asked for a speed bump as their trial run for an offense sans Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell, they couldn’t have gotten a more welcoming opponent than the Browns this season, who may start Johnny Manziel at quarterback.
Should they get past the Browns, they may well weather the storm unscathed with their bye week coming after that, raising the possibility that Roethlisberger could return for the first game following the bye week.
Of course, that is not a guaranteed proposition, and even if he does return, we have all seen his track record in his first game back from an injury—and his second game back as well. There is no upside, unfortunately, to a Ben Roethlisberger injury. It’s all about managing the downside.