PITTSBURGH — The cartilage in Ben Roethlisberger’s aching left knee is repaired.
And while the Pittsburgh Steelers are optimistic their franchise quarterback will return sooner rather than later after tweaking the knee in the second quarter of a miserable loss in Miami on Sunday, the odds of Roethlisberger being ready for a visit from Tom Brady and the New England Patriots six days removed from the operating table are remote.
Roethlisberger rested at home Monday after undergoing arthroscopic surgery and Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said the team is confident Roethlisberger won’t be out “long term.”
But Roethlisberger’s teammates began rallying around their backup now facing the most daunting task of his uneven career.
Your turn, Landry Jones. Again.
“I’m going to prepare like I’ve done in the past and we’ll see what happens,” Jones said.
Any chance Pittsburgh (4-2) has of hanging in there against the surging Patriots (5-1) depends on it. Taken in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, the former Oklahoma star has made two career starts, both last season.
The Steelers went 1-1 in those games, though the victory comes with an asterisk because he left early with an ankle injury and Roethlisberger came on to guide a blowout of Cleveland.
Jones was more effective in relief, leading Pittsburgh by Arizona and Oakland when injuries forced Roethlisberger and Michael Vick out of the lineup.
Given a full week to prepare for the Patriots, Jones believes offensive coordinator Todd Haley doesn’t have to make portions of the playbook off limits to thrive.
“I felt like I had it last year,” Jones said. “We didn’t change much as all of what we were doing. I expect it to be kind of the same this year.”
Jones has taken just a handful of snaps this season and threw one incompletion while briefly spelling Roethlisberger in Miami.
He’s completed 32 of 56 for 513 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions in 11 appearances and played extensively with the first team during a preseason in which Roethlisberger made just a token appearance.
“Practice is so different from games, you never know what you’re going to get from a guy until you go into the game,” Jones said. “Last year I performed pretty well in most of the situations so I feel like I have the confidence of the guys.”
If the Steelers want to have any hope of keeping up with the Patriots, they don’t really have a choice. Several times over the past three years, Jones has seemingly found his roster spot in jeopardy only to survive and — in very limited instances — thrive.
“This guy is a really good college player and now he has the tools around to get the job done,” guard Ramon Foster said. “Me knowing him, he’s going to be a guy that makes sure his success is on the front page.”
Critical time for Jones: The start also comes at a critical time for Jones, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
With Roethlisberger locked up for the rest of the decade, any chance to be in the mix as a legitimate starter will have to come elsewhere. Not that Jones is concerned with his future at the moment. Figuring out the Patriots is hard enough.
Jones’ teammates understand asking Jones to do his best Roethlisberger impersonation is unfair.
“He’s not as capable as Ben is,” running back Le’Veon Bell said. “Ben’s been a longtime starter, been in the league for a long time at a high level. We’ve got to get (Jones) to the point where he’s confident and he feels like he can do no wrong. That’s when he can be striking.”
Not that it’s all on Jones. Pittsburgh’s ugly trip to South Florida included allowing a running back to go over 200 yards rushing for the first time in 16 years and failing to put much pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
“We’ve just got to be better period,” Foster said. “We’ve got to be the same team every week.”
Notes: Tight end Ladarius Green, who has spent the season on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from ankle surgery and other health issues, hopes to return to practice this week. … DE Cam Heyward is unsure if he’ll be able to return after missing the first game of his career against Miami with a hamstring injury. Heyward said any decision won’t be made until much later in the week.