Despite injury, Ben will do what he does best


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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger says offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is like "a grandfather." Arians prefers "crazy uncle." The two are extremely close. Know that going in.

"He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer in my mind," Arians said of Roethlisberger. "He's won two Super Bowls and been to a third. He's not done with Super Bowls, I believe. Even if he stopped right now, he'd be a first-ballot guy."

The man gets no argument here.

Roethlisberger will play in more Super Bowls, win more Super Bowls and ultimately be remembered as the greatest quarterback in Steelers history.

That leads to today's question:

Is Roethlisberger healthy enough to get the Steelers to the Super Bowl this season?

"I think so," he said late last week. "I know I'm going to take some hits. I know that. But I plan on being like Cool Hand Luke. I'm going to keep getting up ...

"I think I can make it all the way."

Are you willing to bet against Roethlisberger?

I'm not.

I know Roethlisberger will be considerably less than full-go today in Denver when the Steelers play the Broncos in an AFC wild-card playoff game. It's hard to imagine him being full-go at any point during this postseason because of his famously sprained left ankle. Roethlisberger said he's OK with that. Unlike the many second-guessers out there who think they are medical experts -- you know who you are -- he said he has no regrets about how he and the team handled his injury after he first went down in the second quarter against Cleveland on Dec. 8. He came back to play that night in the second half -- basically on one leg -- and led the Steelers to a 14-3 win. He played against San Francisco on Dec. 19 and threw three interceptions in a 20-3 loss. He sat out against St. Louis on Dec. 24 and watched backup Charlie Batch perform well in a 27-0 win. He played against Cleveland a week ago in a 13-9 win and looked relatively mobile before tweaking the ankle in the third quarter.

"I don't even know when it happened," Roethlisberger said. "The doctors basically told me there would be at least two or three times during the game when I'd feel like I re-injured it, but that the pain would only last for a minute or so and then be gone. When it still was hurting two series later, I figured they either were lying to me or I did something else to it. I probably set it back a week."

I can just hear the screams if Roethlisberger plays poorly today and the Steelers somehow lose to a mediocre Denver team with a really awful quarterback, Tim Tebow.

Many people already are yelling that coach Mike Tomlin shouldn't have played Roethlisberger -- not to mention center Maurkice Pouncey, who is out today with his own high-ankle sprain -- against Cleveland last week even though the game could have meant a No. 1 or No. 2 playoff seed.

Many others are yelling that Tomlin blew it by allowing Roethlisberger to play against San Francisco even though the Steelers could have taken control of the AFC North Division with a win.

The second-guessers are dead wrong.

The only mistake Tomlin made was allowing Roethlisberger to play the final nine minutes against the 49ers after the fight was over. That was ridiculous.

"I don't regret anything," Roethlisberger said. "I always want to play.

"The only time I had any doubts was going into the San Francisco game. I battled the [decision] to play or not play, almost to the point of tears. Guys were coming up to me and telling me I had to play. I didn't want to let them down. At the same time, I didn't want to play bad and not give them a chance to win. Battling that feeling was hard for me."

Roethlisberger answered the obvious follow-up questions even before they were asked.

"Would we have been better off with Charlie in there? Maybe. Did I hurt the team? I threw three picks. I guess you have to say that."

The Steelers offense with Roethlisberger has not been functional since his injury in the first Cleveland game. He hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since his 79-yarder to wide receiver Antonio Brown late in that game sealed the win. He led only one touchdown drive in his past two starts.

Here's my problem:

I'm not smart enough to say how much Roethlisberger's ankle contributed to his ineffectiveness. Tomlin said he didn't think it had any impact on his performance. That's silly. But was it 50 percent of Roethlisberger's problems? 75 percent? What part did the "brutal [wind] conditions" -- Roethlisberger's words -- play in Cleveland last week? And isn't it possible Roethlisberger just happened to have two bad games?

"I'm always going to lean that way," he said. "I left a lot of plays out there. I have to be better."

I'm thinking today will be the day.

Roethlisberger is 10-3 in the postseason.

"I can't really explain why," he said. "It's not like I've always had my best games. I guess it's just doing what you have to do to find a way to win."

Arians said Roethlisberger has done it enough to merit his Hall of Fame endorsement.

"What do you expect your grandfather to say?" Roethlisberger asked, grinning.

Or your crazy uncle, for that matter?

"Seriously, it means a lot coming from a guy like that," Roethlisberger said. "He's coached some of the best. He coached Peyton Manning. It's awesome to hear even if it is premature."

Roethlisberger agreed with Arians that there are more Super Bowls in his future. It's hard to imagine it happening this season, not necessarily because of his ankle but because these Steelers have not been a good road team. But Roethlisberger believes. This season. Next season. The season after that ...

"We've got something special here," he said. "We've got a lot of great young players. As long as they don't get crazy and change the offense -- that can really set you back -- the sky is the limit for this team."

Translation for Steelers management:

"Please don't even think about bringing in a new offensive coordinator. B.A. is just fine."

Talk about hearing screams.

Roethlisberger is in position today to shut up a lot of the Arians critics and the Tomlin critics, as well.

I'll write it again: I'm not betting against him. Bad ankle? So what?

"I love this time of year," Roethlisberger said. "I love playing in these games."

I don't know about you.

I love watching him.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published January 8, 2012 5:00 AM


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