Mike Tomlin was referring to the game Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens when he labeled Ben Roethlisberger "questionable" to play quarterback for the Steelers. He could just as easily have meant their game Dec. 2 in Baltimore.
Roethlisberger has injuries to a rib and his right shoulder that Tomlin described as a sprain to the sternoclavicular (SC) joint, which connects the sternum to the collarbone. As with other sprains, there are degrees, and it has not been made public to what degree Roethlisberger's shoulder was sprained. After an MRI Monday night, Roethlisberger was having more tests Tuesday.
A source told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the injury was "not good," and other sources said he also injured a rib when he was sacked early in the third quarter by Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston, and that rib injury -- unmentioned by Tomlin -- could also be a serious problem.
At mid-afternoon Tuesday, the Steelers medical staff was still working through all the tests and trying to evaluate them.
It could be a matter of weeks before Roethlisberger returns to play for the Steelers, but any speculation at this point is just that. The injury is not a common one to football players -- a separated shoulder or AC joint sprain is more common.
In severe cases, surgery can be required, but in milder sprains, rest is prescribed.
Brett Favre, playing for the Minnesota Vikings, was knocked out of a game Dec. 5, 2010, against Buffalo with a sprained SC. He tried to come back for the game the next week but could not, and his streak of consecutive starts ended at 297 games. Favre, however, returned to play Dec. 20. He was 41 years old at the time. Roethlisberger is 30.
More recently, St. Louis Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola had a SC shoulder sprain Oct. 4 and did not return until this past Sunday when caught 11 passes in the tie at San Francisco.
Roethlisberger had taken every snap at quarterback this season and has been mentioned as a candidate for MVP of the league. He completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 2,287 yards, 17 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 100.0 passer rating. Ironically, he was injured on the Chiefs' only sack of the game. Sacks of Roethlisberger have dropped considerably this season.
Leftwich knows injuries, too
Tomlin said Byron Leftwich will be next up at quarterback, and the 32-year-old veteran said he will be ready.
Leftwich entered the game Monday night early in the third quarter after Roethlisberger's injury and helped guide the Steelers to a field goal in their 16-13 overtime victory against the Kansas City Chiefs.
It was his first action in a regular-season or playoff game since the finale of the '10 season, when he mopped up against the Cleveland Browns.
This will be Leftwich's first start since Sept. 27, 2009, when he started the first three games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the only other time he has played in the past three seasons.
"That's why they have me here so, if something ever happened to Ben, we don't have to change anything, we can still go out there and play football," said Leftwich. "That's going to be our plan."
Leftwich has had his share of injuries throughout his career. It began in Jacksonville, which made him the seventh overall draft choice in'03 and quickly installed him as its starting quarterback.
He first arrived with the Steelers as a free agent in '08 and played five games, helping the Steelers most memorably beat the Redskins in Washington while playing the second half for an injured Roethlisberger.
He signed as a free agent in '09 with Tampa Bay, but was injured early there and played only in those first three games. He returned to the Steelers via trade (seventh-round draft choice) in '10. He was scheduled to start the first four games of that season for a suspended Roethlisberger, but a preseason knee injury ended those plans.
He then missed all last season after his arm was broken in a preseason game.
"The way this league is going, there's not a quarterback out here that's really playing 16 games," Leftwich said. "So, I try to tell myself that all the time during the week when it's hard -- 'stay on it, stay on it, stay on it, stay on it' -- because you never know.
"And, as you see, a play like that we've seen Ben get out of a million times and we've seen him make a play; it's just that quick. Trust me, I know, because it happened to me last year. You just try to stay on it, keep your mind in it and get ready to play."
Other injury updates
It appears others are not ready to play again this week, headlined by Troy Polamalu. Tomlin described the star safety as doubtful to play against the Ravens.
Here is what Tomlin said of his other injured players:
"Antonio Brown is still rehabbing his ankle sprain. He can be classified as questionable. Marcus Gilbert, with his ankle tendon injury, started some preliminary work last week. He can be classified as questionable.
"Stevenson Sylvester has a hamstring injury. He is questionable. Ryan Clark [concussion] will be evaluated in terms of his participation. I saw him. He appears to be fine. We will see where the evaluation process takes us during the course of the week. Rashard Mendenhall, coming back from his Achilles injury, is starting to work and work significantly for us. I can classify him as questionable."
He added about Clark that "if he's deemed cleared and ready to play, then, of course, we'll play him. If he's not, we won't."
• Tomlin called the release Monday of rookie Alameda Ta'amu "strictly a personnel move" and hinted that he may be back. If he clears waivers, the Steelers could sign Ta'amu to their practice squad or eventually put him back on their 53-man roster.
• Asked what he made of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco playing better at home than on the road, Tomlin replied, "He plays better at home than he does on the road."
• The Steelers will wear their 1934 throwback uniforms for the second time Sunday night and have invited many of their alumni over their 80 seasons as their guests.
Gerry Dulac contributed to this story. For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published November 14, 2012 5:00 AM