Cook: Win comes at a steep price
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It's hard to imagine a more frightening sight at Heinz Field than Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being led to the locker room by the team's medical personnel, holding his right arm close to his body, clearly in distress.
It happened Monday night early in the third quarter of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Suddenly, the outcome didn't seem important. It's nice to report the Steelers went on to win, 16-13, in overtime behind backup quarterback Byron Leftwich on a night when their miserable play matched the miserable weather. But it doesn't change the fact their season is in jeopardy because of what the team described as a right shoulder injury for Roethlisberger, the severity of which wasn't disclosed by coach Mike Tomlin after the game.
But it did not look good.
The timing couldn't be worse.
The Baltimore Ravens come to town Sunday night.
And, to think, a lot of people feared Roethlisberger would miss the Ravens game because of the birth of his first child, who is due this month.
"I hope Ben is healthy," Leftwich said. "If not, I've got to be ready to go. I'll be in watching film tomorrow. It's a great opportunity if I get to play, but it's not about that. I must do my job. We got big things on our mind here. We're here preparing to win a Super Bowl."
Asked if he thought the Steelers could win the Super Bowl with him at quarterback, Leftwich grinned and said: "You think I'm going to say no to that question? We'll see. We're not worried about the Super Bowl right now. We're just going to prepare to play Baltimore."
Roethlisberger was hurt when he was sacked by Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston on the third play of the second half. Linebacker Tamba Hali also was in on the tackle. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until Roethlisberger, after walking to the sideline, quickly left the bench area and went to the locker room with team orthopedist Dr. Jim Bradley. Suddenly, everything seemed wrong.
"A play like that, we've seen Ben get out of it a million times," Leftwich said. "That's how quick [an injury] can happen. I know. It's happened to me enough times."
Bradley came back out to the field.
Roethlisberger never did.
It's a real stretch to think the Steelers can beat the Ravens without Roethlisberger. It's more of a stretch to think they can outlast the Ravens and win the AFC North Division if he is out for significant time.
Roethlisberger isn't just the Steelers' Most Valuable Player. He had played so well this season that his name was being mentioned in NFL MVP discussions. Late in the second quarter, he threw a perfect lob pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace for a 7-yard touchdown that pulled the Steelers into a 10-10 tie. It was Roethlisberger's 17th touchdown pass of the season. He has been intercepted just four times.
Predictably, Leftwich had problems when he entered the game. He missed all of last year after breaking his left arm in the exhibition season. He played in just one game late in the 2010 season after injuring his knee in the exhibition season.
Leftwich's inactivity showed.
The Chiefs helped the Steelers immensely on the field goal drive that gave the Steelers a 13-10 lead. A pass interference penalty on cornerback Javier Arenas and a roughing the passer call on Hali -- both on third down -- kept the drive going. Earlier, Leftwich did complete a 31-yard pass to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on a third-and-9 play. Shaun Suisham kicked a 31-yard field goal with 12:37 left in the game.
The lead looked as if it would hold up for a couple of reasons. One, the Chiefs, now 1-8, are a lousy team. And two, Leftwich completed a 22-yard pass to receiver Jerricho Cotchery on third-and-7 from the Steelers 11 with little more than 3 minutes left.
"I thought [that] was huge," Tomlin said.
But the Chiefs got the ball back with 1:51 left and the Steelers defense couldn't protect the lead. Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop tied the score, 13-13, with a 46-yard field goal at the end of regulation after a nine-play, 52-yard drive.
Fortunately for the Steelers, the defense made up for it. An interception and 23-yard return by linebacker Lawrence Timmons on the second play of overtime set up Suisham's winning 23-yard field goal.
Leftwich, who wasn't needed in overtime, said he felt "as if the other players were faster than me" when he first entered the game. But he said he settled down after four or five plays. "It was like riding a bike."
Leftwich finished 7 of 14 for 73 yards.
The Steelers traded for Leftwich on draft weekend in 2010 for just this sort of emergency. He was supposed to start when Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the '10 season. Leftwich's knee injury ended those plans. The broken arm kept him from being Roethlisberger's backup last season.
Leftwich finally got his chance Monday night. He was just good enough. But it's clear, isn't it? He has to be so much better for the Steelers to succeed in the games ahead if Roethlisberger's injury is serious.
First Published November 13, 2012 12:41 am