Steelers hope injured stars can play
PITTSBURGH — Maybe Ben Roethlisberger should consider throwing with his left hand.
The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback said on his radio show Tuesday he's dealing with torn ligaments and a sprain in his right shoulder, though coach Mike Tomlin stressed the team remains hopeful Roethlisberger will be ready for Sunday's playoff visit to Denver.
"Ben has a chance," Tomlin said. "We'll manage him day to day."
Roethlisberger's shoulder was driven into the soggy turf at Paul Brown Stadium by Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict late in the third quarter of last Saturday's wild-card win over the Bengals.
The two-time Super Bowl champion described the pain as a "grind or a crunch or something" during his weekly appearance on 93.7 The Fan.
There were no plans to send him back in until Cincinnati rallied to take the lead. When Pittsburgh earned one last chance after Ryan Shazier stripped Bengals running back Jeremy Hill, Roethlisberger ambled back onto the field.
"I looked at him, he looked at me and we knew where we were," Tomlin said. "Nine years together, that's reasonable."
His arm throbbing and his ability to get the ball down the field with any sort of velocity nonexistent, Roethlisberger — with more than a little help from the Bengals — managed to lead the Steelers on a drive that set up Chris Boswell's winning field goal.
It was a memorable performance, one that extended Pittsburgh's season at least another week. It also came at a heavy cost.
Roethlisberger remains in some pretty serious pain while All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown remains in the NFL's concussion protocol and starting running back DeAngelo Williams remains a longshot to return from a right foot injury.
Tomlin might want to consider replacing his "next man up" mantra with "last man up" considering the circumstances.
Brown's status: Landry Jones will get the majority of snaps in practice early in the week as Pittsburgh prepares for a rematch with the Broncos, whom the Steelers beat 34-27 on Dec. 20 behind the spectacular play of Brown.
Tomlin admitted the idea of playing without the NFL's second-leading receiver is "unpleasant" but one he'll have to consider after Brown took a shoulder to the head from Burfict with 22 seconds to go.
"We're hopeful, we're always hopeful," Tomlin said. "We'll do what's right when all is said and done."
Brown dominated a depleted Denver secondary for 189 yards receiving and two touchdowns in his first meeting with the Broncos. He had 119 yards against the Bengals, the best playoff performance of his career.
Yet his immediate future became uncertain when Burfict lowered his right shoulder into Brown's head while the receiver attempted to make a leaping grab on Pittsburgh's final drive.
Burfict was flagged on the play and suspended for the first three games of the 2016 regular season on Monday, though Roethlisberger didn't characterize the sack he took or the targeting of Brown as dirty play by the volatile linebacker.
"I think he was just trying to make a play," Roethlisberger said. "As fast as the game, as fast as all that happened, you've got to be pretty good to try and intentionally do something like that."
Williams unlikely to play: While Pittsburgh remains optimistic the cornerstones of the NFL's third-ranked offense will be available to try and help the Steelers to their first AFC championship game appearance in five years, Williams appears likely to miss his second straight game after injuring his right foot in the regular season finale against Cleveland.
Tomlin said he will "leave the door ajar" for Williams, but it seems Pittsburgh will go with the tandem of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman on Sunday.
The duo combined for 123 yards rushing in their postseason debuts, helping take some of the pressure off Roethlisberger, who wasn't particularly crisp in the rain even before Burfict drove him into the turf.
Not that it mattered in the end. Pittsburgh moved on and while the Bengals spent the aftermath defending their own behavior and claiming the Steelers were just as dirty, Tomlin is in no mood to engage in any more trash talk.
"Cincinnati is afforded the opportunity to sit around days after and rehash what happened," he said. "We don't have that opportunity."
Notes: FB Will Johnson (hamstring), LB Vince Williams (hamstring) and S Robert Golden (shoulder) will be monitored early in the week, but should be ready for Sunday.