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Steelers face uphill climb without Ben Roethlisberger

Sunday was not a good day for the Pittsburgh Steelers despite their 12-6 win over the St. Louis Rams.

Hard-core Steelers historians might have felt a sense of trepidation about the day, even with the return of Le’Veon Bell.

The last time the Steelers played at St. Louis, Willie Parker broke his leg in Week 16 of the 2007 season. The Steelers won that night, but were one-and-done in the playoffs without their star running back.

Unlike Parker eight years ago, Bell left the Edward Jones Dome unscathed. He was indispensable, scoring the game’s only touchdown.

Another indispensable Steeler wasn’t so fortunate.

Ben Roethlisberger left the stadium on crutches, suffering a left knee injury after Rams safety Mark Barron sacked him late in the third quarter.

Roethlisberger went down in a manner similar to Tom Brady in 2008. Brady also was taken down by a safety who went at him low. After Bernard Pollard ended Brady’s season, that type of hit was made illegal. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, however, said he didn’t have a problem with it according to Ed Bouchette of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

This wasn’t one of those times when Roethlisberger gets up, makes a face and limps around a little bit. That barely even fazes anyone anymore. This time, Roethlisberger went down and he stayed down.

He needed help from trainers to walk off the field. Even Brady in 2008 could walk off the field on his own after his encounter with Pollard. With Roethlisberger about to be carted into the locker room, Steelers receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey gave him a handshake.

That’s never a good sign.

A handshake in that situation usually means “Sorry you’re season’s over, bro,” and Roethlisberger’s eyes seemed to well up when he was on that cart. The body language didn’t look good.

(UPDATE) It turns out that it might not be as bad as it looked. 

An X-ray revealed no broken bones and an MRI revealed no ACL tear, according to Pro Football Talk. So Roethlisberger is not out for the season. He’s expected to miss roughly four to six weeks.

If Roethlisberger’s injury cast a pall over the Steelers (2-1) on Sunday, you couldn’t tell looking at Steelers coach Mike Tomlin after the game. A pumped-up Tomlin ran to shake Michael Vick’s hand after the Steelers’ backup closed out the victory.

We’ll see how pumped Tomlin is in about six weeks.

An X-ray revealed no broken bones, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and it was unclear as of Sunday night how long Roethlisberger will be out. Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that he’ll miss a minimum of four games pending the results of an MRI.

The Steelers (2-1) hold out hope that the ACL is intact, but they should prepare for the worst.

If Roethlisberger is out for the season, and that’s a possibility that must be faced, Michael Vick will be the Steelers’ starting quarterback. That’s assuming Vick can stay healthy.

Since his Pro Bowl season in 2010, Vick’s completion percentage has gone down every year. It bottomed out at 52.9 percent with the Jets last season. The Cardinals’ Ryan Lindley was the only other quarterback with a lower percentage who took at least 100 snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

The 35-year-old Vick did complete five of six passes Sunday, but for just 38 yards. Without Roethlisberger, the Steelers won’t be the offensive juggernaut that everyone envisioned before the season. But Todd Haley coaxed a Pro Bowl season out of 37-year-old Kurt Warner in 2008 and the Cardinals went to Super Bowl XLIII. It’s probably asking a lot for Haley to work the same magic with Vick. Warner, after all, is in the Hall of Fame conversation.

The Steelers’ offense was going to carry the defense this season. Now? The defense allowed six points Sunday, the lowest for a Steelers opponent since Week 6 of the 2013 season. It’s premature, however, to expect this defense to keep winning games for the Steelers. This was the Rams. The Steelers probably won’t face another offense with such thin talent at the skill positions, and they forced just one turnover Sunday. They’ll need a lot more than that to win games without Roethlisberger.

This is a far cry from the defense that led the Steelers to a 3-1 start without Roethlisberger in 2010. That said, a 3-1 start is within reach this year.

Vick is capable of leading the Steelers to a win over the Ravens (0-3) on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. If he does, the Ravens would be in an even worse position than the Steelers while the Steelers gather a few more nuts before facing a possible nuclear winter without Roethlisberger.

The Cowboys are going to have to find a way to win without Tony Romo for a significant part of the season. Drew Brees missed a game for the first time since 2009 Sunday with a bruised rotator cuff. The Bears were without Jay Cutler in Seattle.

Every time a quarterback has gone down, it’s been a reminder of Roethlisberger’s durability. He’s started 16 games for two straight seasons for the first time in his career. His longest absence was his four-game suspension at the start of the 2010 season. That could change this season. The epidemic of quarterback injuries in the NFL has struck the Steelers. This is a brutal game.

Roethlisberger’s injury wasn’t the only mishap on the field Sunday. The game was delayed 25 minutes because a patch of turf near the 5-yard line caught fire during a pre-game pyrotechnics display.

If the Steelers had their druthers, they’d probably light the whole field on fire. Their 2007 championship hopes are buried in that turf, and this year’s title hopes might have died there, too.

(UPDATE) The fire was put out quickly and the damage was limited to a small patch of turf.

Regarding Roethlisberger’s injury, the potential damage to the Steelers’ 2015 season also was minimized.


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