Ben Roethlisberger has never missed four consecutive games with an injury, and to avoid doing so, he must show Mike Tomlin, starting today, that he is capable of playing Sunday.
While saying that Charlie Batch "is our guy," Tomlin said Roethlisberger "will be given an opportunity to prove he is healthy" and if he is, he will play. Tomlin said he will base his decision on how Roethlisberger throws in practice this week, particularly during full 11-on-11 team drills. He said it will not be based on how Batch played against the Ravens.
"Totally separate," Tomlin said. "Obviously, Ben is our quarterback and if he's capable of playing, then we're going to play him. But we appreciate the efforts of Charlie and all the other men that step up when given an opportunity due to injury."
A team source told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac that Roethlisberger is expected to play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field.
Nevertheless, Tomlin said they will proceed as they did last week, building a game plan around Batch's abilities and strengths. Even though Byron Leftwich is healing from his broken ribs, Tomlin said there will be no room for him to get any practice time in with Batch, Roethlisberger and Brian Hoyer all needing them.
"We will focus on the two healthy quarterbacks and Roethlisberger, who is trying to prove his health. We will see where the week takes us," Tomlin said.
Today may be the most important practice. Tomlin said it will "provide some clarity for us and we will be able to make firm decisions."
Last week, Roethlisberger threw softly and never participated in team drills. Tomlin declared him out on Friday.
Roethlisberger was hurt early in the second half of the game Nov. 12 against Kansas City at Heinz Field. The next day, Tomlin revealed that Roethlisberger had an SC shoulder sprain and "that's all the information I have for you at this time.''
Roethlisberger provided more detailed information at lunchtime one day later, including an additional injury, "a dislocation of the first rib. That's the scary part because I guess if it goes in the wrong direction it can puncture the aorta. That's more of the issue, I think. That's probably the more painful part."
Later that day, after practice, Tomlin responded to Roethlisberger revealing the rib injury:
"To my knowledge, the injuries are one in the same. I don't get into explicit details with you guys. I think they are connected. I don't have a skeleton in front of me."
Tuesday, Tomlin was asked about it again, this time as to whether the injury could have been life-threatening.
"I guess you could describe it in that way, but the chances of that were extremely rare and minimal," the coach said. "So, percentages, yes. To what degree, I don't know. We talk more about the nature of the injury and what's going to be required for him to return. I wasn't privy or a part of discussions along those lines."
Roethlisberger was on his way to perhaps his best season when he was hurt. He was on pace to break his own team record for passing yards in a season, 4,328 in 2009, and was getting some attention as a league MVP candidate.
The only times he has missed consecutive games came in 2005 when he missed three at midseason after surgery on his knee to repair a meniscus, and the first four games of 2010 when the NFL suspended him.
He previously missed only two games because of injuries since the start of the 2007 season.
Ike Taylor will miss at least two weeks with a hairline fracture of his right ankle.
Cortez Allen will start at right cornerback and Curtis Brown will come into the game in the nickel defense, as they did in Baltimore after Taylor was hurt breaking up a deep pass in the first series.
"I thought both guys did a really nice job," Tomlin said. "They proved that it wasn't too big for them. Cortez Allen has played a lot of defensive football for us this year over the course of the season. I was not surprised by his performance but I was pleased with the defensive contributions of Brown."
DeMarcus Van Dyke, acquired off waivers from Oakland before the first game, would be next in line. He has not been active the past four games.
The Steelers were to work out veteran cornerback Stanford Routt this morning but he signed with the Houston Texans. They did re-sign a cornerback to their practice squad, Josh Victorian, who was cut from there last week. They released receiver Derek Moye to make room.
In other injury news from Tomlin, Willie Colon (knee) is expected to return after missing two games, although he did dress for both. Mike Adams (ankle) will miss his second game. LaMarr Woodley is questionable with the ankle injury that kept him out of the game in Baltimore. Will Johnson has done well in concussion tests and the team is confident he will play. Emmanuel Sanders has a shoulder separation but should play. Mike Wallace has some swelling in his right knee but should play. Ryan Clark (hip) could be limited in practice. Jerricho Cotchery (ribs) will return.
Here is Tomlin's explanation for the tense handshake exchange with Baltimore coach John Harbaugh after Sunday's game:
"Nothing really unusual other than the fact that I was kind of in a hurry. As I moved toward the middle of the field, I noticed to my left the number of guys that were headed toward our locker room. Maybe that happens all the time, but given the amount of effort it took to get out of that stadium with a win, I wanted to get there as quickly as I could. It's a normal practice for me to welcome guys into the locker room and thank them for their efforts after games and, really, the results of games don't matter.
"It's a general practice for me but, obviously, it took special effort to secure that victory and when I noticed that guys were headed to the locker room I was in a hurry to get there."
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 December 5, 2012 5:00 AM