Aaron Smith decided to have surgery on his shoulder rather than risk making the injury worse because he wants to play again next season. Now, if those clouds would just part so he at least could get on with it.
Twice, the surgery was postponed on consecutive Fridays after the injury was discovered after the Steelers' Oct. 11 game in Detroit.
First, he had the flu, postponing his Oct. 16 surgery until Oct. 23. That too was postponed because of a sinus infection. Once that clears, he will have the surgery to repair his torn rotator cuff and then begin the road back to 2010, when he plans to be back at his position at left defensive end.
He never doubted he would play again at age 34 next season.
"Yeah, really, that's why we're doing this because, at this point, I'll be fine," Smith said after joining his teammates along the sideline Sunday as they defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 27-17.
He also joined them in the locker room, feeling less an active part of a team that has won four games in a row.
"It's hard," said Smith, who has played in 150 regular-season games. "Last week, I was so sick I didn't even care. But not being at the hotel [Saturday night] with the guys and coming here and the energy on the sideline, it's hard. I enjoy playing this game."
Smith, a fourth-round draft choice in 1999, became their starting left defensive end in 2000 and did not miss a game until 2007 when he missed five games with knee and biceps injuries.
Hines Ward had the same rotator cuff surgery after last season that Smith soon will have, and he is off to his fastest start at age 33, ranking among the league receiving leaders.
Said Smith, "He was teasing me earlier: 'Oh, you sissy.' I'm like, I could play with my MCL [torn]. He couldn't play with his MCL. It's a different position."
Smith's shoulder bothered him for several weeks, but it was not until the game in Detroit that it caused him to leave the field. Tests showed the tear in his rotator cuff. Rather than risk a more serious injury that could possibly end his career, and knowing he would not be at full strength if he continued, Smith opted for the season-ending surgery.
He knows what it was like to try to play through a biceps injury in 2007 that limited the strength a defensive end needs to ward off blocks from 300-pound linemen and make tackles. He wound up going on injured reserve Dec. 11 that season and having surgery to repair his torn biceps.
The rehab from his torn rotator cuff surgery, when it finally is done, will pale in comparison, he said.
"It can't be worse than this," Smith said, pointing to the scar on his bicep. "I know that."
Smith plans to join his teammates at practice in the spring.
Ben Roethlisberger cannot avoid a sack even on his off week.
A scoring change from the game Sunday switched a Roethlisberger run for minus-1 yard into a sack by Minnesota's Kevin Williams.
That lifted Roethlisberger's sack total Sunday against the Vikings to four and his season total to 20. He is on pace for 46 sacks through 16 games, the same total as last season.
Roethlisberger's career high came in 2007 when he was sacked 47 times in 15 games. He was sacked 139 times in the past three seasons.