You think the Steelers were lucky to beat the Miami Dolphins Sunday because of a controversial call by the officials? You have no idea. They didn't just almost lose a fumble and the game. They almost lost the quarterback.
"I thought he broke my arm. He hit me so hard," Ben Roethlisberger said.
You might say the man was relieved.
Relieved because his fumble in the final 2 1/2 minutes didn't cost the Steelers the game.
Relieved more that he survived a hit from Dolphins safety Chris Clemons to play another game Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints.
The other fellows in the Steelers' locker room were mighty relieved, too, after their 23-22 win.
"He's starting to come around," wide receiver Hines Ward said of Roethlisberger. "He's getting back to his old self. He's close. We're going to need that."
Now more than ever.
The Steelers lost defensive end Aaron Smith Sunday because of a torn left triceps muscle, almost certainly for the rest of the season. Their defense leads the NFL in points allowed and is No. 1 against the run, but it will be significantly weaker without Smith. "Aaron is the guy who makes it all happen," linebacker/defensive captain James Farrior said.
That's where Roethlisberger comes in. The defense carried the team when he missed the first four games because of his NFL-mandated suspension and is mostly responsible for the team's 5-1 start. Now, it's time for Roethlisberger and the offense to carry more of the load. Everybody knows the quarterback needs his throwing arm for that.
It would have been a crying shame if Clemons had broken Roethlisberger's right arm. His first game back from the suspension went well, three touchdown passes and a 112.7 passer rating in a 28-10 win Oct. 17 against the Cleveland Browns. Sunday went even better; he threw for 302 yards and two touchdowns and had a 132.0 passer rating.
In each game, Roethlisberger shrugged off an early mistake. Against the Browns, it was an interception when he "got a little antsy" trying to get the ball to running back Mewelde Moore. Sunday, it was a lost fumble when he was hit by safety Yeremiah Bell as he tried to shovel a pass to running back Isaac Redman. "That was me just being a little crazy," Roethlisberger said.
Did I mention the man shrugged it off?
"I thought he played a tremendous game," Ward said Sunday. "He's making all the throws. He understands the offense better than he did last year. He's making his first, second and third reads and getting the ball there. It's amazing."
A lot of those reads took Roethlisberger to Ward, who had seven catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. Roethlisberger also threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace, who flat ran by Dolphins cornerback Jason Allen.
Ward, Wallace and I were impressed, Roethlisberger not so much.
"I felt better," he allowed, grudgingly. "We got our first dose of the no-huddle and I thought we did really well and we went right down the field [for a field goal]. I still left quite a few things out there. I'm disappointed with myself, but, with that being said, a win is a win."
It wasn't secured until the Steelers got a break from the officials on Roethlisberger's late fumble. He ran a quarterback draw on third-and-goal from the Miami 2 with the Steelers trailing, 22-20. Just as he dived for the goal line, he was clubbed from his right by Clemons. The officials ruled touchdown, but, after further review, they decided Roethlisberger had fumbled into the end zone. What they couldn't determine was who recovered the ball. They had to give the Steelers the ball back at the 1, which enabled kicker Jeff Reed to make the winning 18-yard field goal.
"You hate to win it that way, but you'll take the win," Roethlisberger said.
Did I mention the man was relieved?
Things could have been worse.
A lot worse, actually.
"I've got to hold on to the ball," Roethlisberger said. "I just need to hold on and get in."
I have to tell you that was nice to see.
Not Roethlisberger beating himself up.
That he had two good arms to do it.
Ron Cook: email@example.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.