It appears another Ravens-Steelers showdown will hinge on a banged-up joint on Ben Roethlisberger’s body.
The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, who has thrown 17 touchdown passes and just four interceptions, left Monday night’s overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs after his right arm, his throwing arm, got jammed into the turf while he was sacked by two defenders. Roethlisberger reportedly went to the hospital for tests, which could confirm that he has a sprained or separated shoulder, but early signs are he won’t play Sunday.
And that would obviously be a big break for the Ravens, who have to match up against the talented Steelers receiving corps at Heinz Field. Byron Leftwich has experience as a former starter with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but not as much recent experience as you would think considering he is the backup to the oft-injured Roethlisberger.
"Anytime our quarterback goes down you worry about it," wide receiver Mike Wallace told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "But we have some guys who are capable of stepping in. Ben is one of the best in the game and anytime you lose a guy who is one of the best at any position it hurts you, but we have [Leftwich] and he is capable of running this team."
After adjusting to the timing and quick passes of Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley's game plans, Roethlisberger is having one of the finest seasons of his NFL career. His completion percentage (66.1) and quarterback rating (100.0) rank among his top three season totals, and he had been on pace to eclipse 30 touchdown passes for the second time in his career. Plus, he had been taking fewer sacks before getting knocked out Monday.
Even if Roethlisberger were to sit out Sunday night, a victory won’t be guaranteed for the Ravens. The Steelers once again have one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses and they have rediscovered their running game. But history shows that the Ravens have handled the Steelers whenever the Steelers weren’t able to prop up their gimpy quarterback and wrap him in bandages like a horror movie villain and push him out onto the football field.
In 2010, the Ravens beat Charlie Batch and the Steelers, 17-14, at Heinz Field. In 2009, they survived rookie Dennis Dixon in a 20-17 overtime victory at M&T Bank Stadium. In 2007, they defeated Batch and the Steelers, 27-21, in the season finale at M&T Bank Stadium, and they did it with Troy Smith, then a rookie, in at quarterback. The Ravens are 4-0 against the Steelers when they didn't have Roethlisberger due to injury or suspension.
In his first action since the 2010 season, Leftwich completed seven of his 14 attempts for 73 yards against the Chiefs on Monday night. The 32-year-old quarterback, who was coveted by the Ravens in the 2003 draft, has thrown just 21 passes the past three years.
“I haven’t done it in a while,” Leftwich told The Tribune-Review, “but I’m sure if I have to do it, it’ll be like riding a bike.”
And if he falls off, the Steelers still have Batch, 37, on the roster.
We’ll see if Roethlisberger is knocked out of another rivalry game. If he is, the Ravens stand to benefit -- again.