BALTIMORE -- If Hines Ward's words sounded cutting in an interview aired before the game, he later explained they were merely spoken in frustration.
In a taped interview with Bob Costas aired beforehand on NBC's "Football Night in America," the Steelers' all-time leading receiver talked about the locker room being "like a 50-50 toss-up" over whether quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should have played last night despite a concussion from seven days earlier. Ward talked about lying to team doctors on occasions when he suffered from concussion symptoms and how many NFL players overlook them, statements that league officials won't relish reading and hearing amid an increased effort to protect players from such life-altering injuries. And he talked in such a way that his predecessor as the player voted the league's dirtiest, NBC analyst Rodney Harrison, criticized Ward for questioning his team leader's toughness.
"This game is almost like a playoff game. It's almost a must-win. I could see some players or teammates questioning, like 'It's just a concussion. I've played with a concussion before,'" Ward told Costas in an interview taped Saturday at the team's suburban-Baltimore hotel as a prelude to the Steelers-Ravens game last night at M&T Bank Stadium and on NBC.
"It's almost like a 50-50 toss-up in the locker room: Should he play? Shouldn't he play? It's really hard to say. I've been out there dinged up; the following week, got right back out there. Ben practiced all week. He split time with Dennis Dixon. And then to find out that he's still having some headaches and not playing and it came down to the doctors didn't feel that they were going to clear him or not -- it's hard to say. Unless you're the person [himself]. ... I've lied to a couple of doctors saying I'm straight, I feel good when I know that I'm not really straight."
After a 20-17 overtime loss to Baltimore, Ward attempted to set the record straight:
"I mean, you know, you really don't want to mess around with concussions. Guys have concussions and still play. But you got to look at the whole, big picture. When your health comes into question, you've got to look at the long-term effect. When I said that, I really wasn't saying that negative toward Ben. But you have to be concerned about it. You don't know what the future may hold. ...
"Wish we had him out there. But we didn't."
As for the interview itself, Ward mentioned that the timing of the Roethlisberger decision on Saturday morning confused most of the locker room.
"That's where the frustrating part is," Ward said. "A lot of guys didn't find out until Saturday [morning]. It was very shocking to a lot of guys on this team."
Fellow receiver Santonio Holmes continued: "Only [No.] 7 knows how he feels right now. It was coach's decision to not play him. We wanted him to play. We felt like he could play -- that's only the way we felt. He felt like he couldn't go, so he didn't go. We just got to get the job done."
Roethlisberger said afterward: "I wanted to go out there and play. But the doctors told me it wasn't a good decision. Then, the coaches told me the same thing. So I wasn't playing."
The player voted the NFL's dirtiest before Ward, NBC's Harrison of Chargers and Patriots infamy, responded to Ward's interview comments that his New England mates never would have talked about their quarterback in such a fashion.
"It really surprised me," Harrison said on "Football Night." "You look at Hines and Ben, and they've been teammates for six years, won two Super Bowls together, and for him to question his quarterback's toughness really shocked me. If Tom Brady had a hangnail, never would any of the guys question Tom Brady. So it really shocked me that he questioned his toughness."
Added ex-Indianapolis coach and former Steelers player and coach Tony Dungy: "As a coach, that's why you can't listen to the players. You can't listen to: 'Hey, I'm OK.' You have to go with the doctors. Mike Tomlin, I'm sure, is going with the doctors' view on this. The thing I don't understand is, why he's the third quarterback [last night]. ... The third quarterback would have played last week [in overtime at Kansas City] because they had two quarterbacks get hurt. I think if he's out, he should be out."
It wasn't just NBC. A couple of CBS analysts criticized the Steelers for how they handled the Roethlisberger situation -- especially given Arizona making quarterback Kurt Warner inactive yesterday, a fellow concussion sufferer the prior Sunday and similarly listed as questionable after practicing all week.
"How does Pittsburgh go into this game without signing a veteran backup [quarterback] earlier in the week knowing that Charlie Batch was out of the mix?" former quarterback Boomer Esiason asked.
"In my opinion, the Steelers made a mistake," former Washington and Houston general manager Charley Casserly added. "When you end Sunday's game, your backup quarterback Charlie Batch is out. Your starting quarterback didn't finish the game. You're in the middle of a playoff hunt. Sign a veteran quarterback. Have that insurance ready. Have that done by Monday night." On Wednesday, the Steelers brought in former NFL starters/backups Patrick Ramsey and Todd Bouman for physicals and inspection by scouts and coaches, but have yet to sign either.
Dixon ended his inaugural NFL start with a passing thud: He misfired on 12 of his final 16 pass attempts -- this after an 8-for-10 first half -- and threw an inaugural NFL interception to Ravens rookie linebacker Paul Kruger, whose return set up the winning field goal.
"I put my all into it," said Dixon, who finished 12 for 26 for 145 yards, one touchdown and that interception. It left him with a passer rating of 60.6.
But Dixon also ran three times for 27 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown run that gave the Steelers the lead with 6:30 left in the game. He had a 31-yard rush negated by a holding penalty in the first quarter.
"This guy should have won the Heisman. Probably should have been a higher pick than he was," safety Ryan Clark said of this 2008 fifth-rounder. "He showed that. Did an awesome job. I just wish, defensively, we would have made him some plays to get him the win."
"We had enough points out there to win the game," linebacker LaMarr Woodley added.
Continued Ward: "He gave us his best. It was a very positive sign to see him go out there under the circumstances, against a great defense, hostile territory, Sunday night. ... He's going to be a good one."
Steelers -- S Troy Polamalu, G Chris Kemoeatu and Batch (wrist) due to injuries, CB Keenan Lewis, G Kraig Urbik, DE Sunny Harris, DE Nick Eason and Roethlisberger. It has been quite a revolving-door season for Eason, who has been released, signed, started the past three games and then rendered inactive last night.
Ravens -- LB Terrell Suggs due to injury; CB Cary Williams, FB Charles Ali, LB Antwan Barnes, OT Oniel Cousins, OL Tony Moll, NG Kelly Talavou and QB John Beck.
Chuck Finder can be reached at email@example.com .