Nothing can derail a great season like injuries, and specifically an injury to your quarterback. The Pittsburgh Steelers entered Sunday’s game looking to go 8-0 on the season to retain the best record in the NFL, but instead watched their franchise, Ben Roethlisberger, limping into the locker room before the first half was over—though only after throwing a touchdown to James Washington.
The thinking was that, with under two minutes to go, the Steelers were unlikely to see the ball again before the half, so when Minkah Fitzpatrick was able to recover a fumble, it was Mason Rudolph who came into the game to execute the offense with under a minute to play to try to put some more points on the board.
He only mustered three yards on three pass attempts to set up Chris Boswell for a 54-yard field goal attempt, which he missed. But because of a false start penalty, he then got the opportunity to attempt a 59-yard field goal on 4th and 12, which he made—the longest field goal made in franchise history, which sent the Steelers into the locker room trailing only by four, rather than 13.
The fortunate news, of course, is that Roethlisberger appeared to have avoided major injury. His evaluation over the course of halftime put the Steelers in a position in which they felt comfortable with him returning to the game in the second half, though thanks to the defense giving up a field goal on the opening drive of the third, he came into the game inheriting the same points differential—down by six—that he left with.
By halftime, Roethlisberger had completed 14 of 19 attempts for 111 yards with one touchdown, so overall, his numbers looked good. But he had to come back and be even better in the second half. In the final half, he completed 15 passes on 23 attempts for 195 yards, finishing in the end zone twice more to JuJu Smith-Schuster and Eric Ebron, with another game-winning drive.
That’s two losses that the Steelers avoided today, not one, and one loss would have been far more costly than the other. Roethlisberger’s return helped vault them into their biggest comeback of the year, overcoming a 13-point deficit and sending them to 8-0, preserving their league-best record. The loss would have kept them in the lead of the AFC North, however, and as a loss outside of the conference, would have been less damaging.
Losing Roethlisberger? That, of course, changes everything, as we found out last year. And Rudolph’s three-play cameo at the end of the first half was not exactly inspiring. Cue the ‘should’ve signed Jameis Winston’ crowd, but today, I’m just grateful that Big Ben and the Steelers were able to dodge a bullet that would’ve been far more damaging than simply being on the wrong side of the scoreboard.