While Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin remained noncommittal about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's availability for Sunday's game, Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs insists he knows exactly how the situation will play out.
"You've got to understand, I saw this movie before. He's going to act like, 'Oh, I'm not playing. I don't know. I did individual today, I threw a little bit. I don't still know,'" Suggs said Wednesday. "And then he's going to walk his big [butt] out there and I'm going to be like, 'How are you doing, Benjamin?' And he'll be like, 'What's up Sizzle?' And then it's on. Don't fall for that, though. I'm telling my boys No. 7 is playing, and not only that, he's going to try and light [us] up."
Roethlisberger had surgery Oct.17 to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, and his return date has been the subject of great speculation since. The situation isn't unique to the Ravens or Steelers. Roethlisberger has missed at least one game in 10 of his 13 NFL seasons, and the Ravens have seemingly benefitted the most from his absences.
While Roethlisberger has never missed a game in his career against the Cincinnati Bengals and he's missed only two career games against the Cleveland Browns, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback has been sidelined because of injuries or a suspension for seven games against the Ravens.
With Roethlisberger leading their offense, the Steelers have beaten the Ravens in 11 of 20 meetings, including two of three playoff matchups. With Roethlisberger out and either Tommy Maddox, Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon, Byron Leftwich and Mike Vick under center, the Steelers are 1-6 against the Ravens and they haven't scored more than 21 points in any of those games.
"That's just how the ball bounces. That's the nature of this game. Injuries are a part of it," Tomlin said Wednesday in a conference call with Baltimore-area reporters. "It's our job to adapt and improvise and overcome. We've been in that circumstance in the past, and if we're in that circumstance again, the standard of expectation will remain the same, and we understand that."
Roethlisberger, who hurt his knee in Pittsburgh's Oct.16 loss to the Miami Dolphins and missed the next game against the New England Patriots, started practicing on a limited basis last week during the team's limited bye week workouts. He also has practiced on a limited basis the past two days, and teammates have praised the progress that the 34-year-old quarterback has made.
"Ben is a champion," Steelers star wide receiver Antonio Brown said in a conference call. "Any time he's out there he's always looking great, but it's all on how he feels and what's the smart thing for him to do."
Tomlin still wants to see more before he decides whether to start Roethlisberger, or backup Landry Jones, in Sunday's key AFC North matchup at M&T Bank Stadium. The Steelers (4-3) have dropped two straight games and the Ravens (3-4) have lost four in a row, but the winner will be in first place in the division come Monday.
"It's day-to-day at this point," Tomlin said on Roethlisberger's status. "We had some participation from him last week, and it was all positive. But we're really just taking it from a day-by-day standpoint. We've got some work scheduled for him today. We'll see how he handles that work, see what the reaction is to that work, and then kind of go from there."
Tomlin said the Steelers have a "great deal of confidence" in Jones, who made his third career start on Oct. 23 in the loss to the Patriots. A fourth-round pick by the Steelers out of Oklahoma in 2013, Jones completed 29-of-47 passing attempts against the Patriots for 281 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
In 12 career appearances, Jones has completed 61-of-103 passing attempts (59.2 percent) for 794 yards, four touchdown passes and five interceptions. But Jones lacks the game experience of some of the other Steelers' backups that the Ravens have seen in previous years instead of Roethlisberger.
Maddox was in his ninth NFL season when he started in place of Roethlisberger, who was dealing with a knee injury, in a Nov. 20, 2005 overtime loss to the Ravens. Batch, who spent the majority of his 12-year career as an NFL backup, faced the Ravens three times as the starter in place of Roethlisberger and even directed Pittsburgh to a 23-20 victory over them at M&T Bank Stadium in December 2012.
With Roethlisberger nursing a shoulder injury in their Nov. 18, 2012 matchup at Heinz field, Leftwich, then in his ninth and final NFL season, got the start. And last October, Vick, in his 13th professional season, faced the Ravens with Roethlisberger dealing with a sprained knee.
The only young quarterback to fill in against the Ravens was Dixon, who made his first career start on Nov. 29, 2009 as Roethlisberger was recovering from a concussion. He completed only 12 passes for 145 yards that day and the Ravens won, 20-17.
Close victories have been the norm for the Ravens in games Roethlisberger hasn't started, but the past means nothing to Ravens coach John Harbaugh who expects the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback to play, but said his team will also be prepared for Jones.
"Of course, Ben is more experienced in the offense," Harbaugh said. "He has more tools at his disposal that would appear when you watch the tape. We understand what those things are that he does. We have played them a lot. You can't assume that if Landry Jones plays that he won't have the ability to do the same things. We'll just have to see how it goes. We'll be ready for everything Ben can do. If it's not Ben — if it's Landry Jones — then we'll be prepared for that, too."
Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith joined Suggs in the staunch belief that Roethlisberger will be on the field Sunday.
"There's no question in my mind he's playing. It's not even up for debate. If he's practicing he's playing," Smith said. "Since I've been here, what I've learned about this guy, unless he has no foot this week, I don't think he's not going to be in the game."
No Ben, no Problem?
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is uncertain for Sunday's game because of a knee injury, has faced the Ravens 20 times, including three times in the playoffs. The Steelers are 11-9 in those games. With Roethlisberger out, Pittsburgh is 1-6 against the Ravens.
Date; Result; Starting QB; QB numbers (Comp.-Att.-Yds, TDs, INTs)
11/20/05; Ravens, 16-13 (OT); Tommy Maddox; 19-36-230, 1, 1
12/30/07; Ravens, 27-21; Charlie Batch; 16-31-218, 2, 2
11/29/09; Ravens, 20-17 (OT); Dennis Dixon; 12-26-145, 1, 1
10/3/10; Ravens, 17-14; Charlie Batch; 12-21-141, 0, 1
11/18/12; Ravens, 13-10; Byron Leftwich; 18-39-199, 0, 1
12/2/12; Steelers, 23-20; Charlie Batch; 25-36-276, 1, 1
10/1/15; Ravens, 23-20 (OT); Mike Vick; 19-26-124, 1, 0