Ben Roethlisberger has played through injuries before, but the
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback could find himself sidelined for
health reasons for the first time since 2009 at an inopportune
In a tight AFC playoff race, the Steelers will be without
linebacker James Harrison when they visit the postseason-bound San
Francisco 49ers on Monday night.
Pittsburgh (10-3) has been idle since winning its fourth
straight with a 14-3 victory over Cleveland on Dec. 8. The 10-day
layoff due to a Thursday night game came at a good time for the
Steelers, who hope to get Roethlisberger on the field after he
sprained his left ankle against the Browns.
Roethlisberger left in the second quarter but returned in the
second half, finishing 16 of 21 for 280 yards, two touchdowns and
an interception. Veteran Charlie Batch relieved him and threw two
Roethlisberger declined to talk to reporters Wednesday before
walking out of the team’s facility with a noticeable limp. Coach
Mike Tomlin said the quarterback would be evaluated throughout the
week before a decision is made, but that Roethlisberger wouldn’t
need to participate in a full practice in order to play.
“He can be ready to play on a limited number of snaps,” Tomlin
said. “We’re going to take it day by day. We’re always going to be
optimistic when it comes to Ben.”
Roethlisberger, who played through a broken thumb earlier this
season, hasn’t missed a start due to injury since a concussion
sidelined him against Baltimore in 2009. He sat out the first four
games of the 2010 season after violating the NFL’s personal conduct
policy. The Steelers went 3-1 in his absence with Dennis Dixon and
Batch splitting the snaps.
“Those guys, they’re not Ben,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said.
“They’re great players, but Ben is something really special. So you
have to change your game to what they do best.”
While Roethlisberger’s status isn’t certain, that’s not the case
for Harrison, who got a one-game suspension from the NFL for his
helmet-to-helmet hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy.
Though Harrison hasn’t been fined for a hit in more than a year,
he was considered a repeat offender under the 2011 League Policies
for Players manual, leading to the suspension.
Harrison appealed the decision, but the NFL denied it Friday,
citing his history of flagrant hits. This was his fifth on a
“We’re disappointed for James because we know how hard he’s
worked to play within the rules,” Tomlin said. “We accept the
judgment rendered by the league office and we’ll move forward.”
Harrison has eight sacks despite missing a month with a
fractured right orbital bone and dealing with persistent back
issues. The Steelers defense has given up 19 total points in the
last three games, and Pittsburgh managed to go 4-0 during his
The 49ers (10-3) have clinched the NFC West, but have lost two
of three and have some injury concerns of their own as they try to
grab a first-round bye for the playoffs.
“You’re the hunted now, you’re not the hunter as much,” coach
Jim Harbaugh said. “You have a target on your back. That’s raised.
Not saying it wasn’t like that before, but that expectation, that
bar has raised.”
After a 26-0 win over St. Louis on Dec. 4, they fell 21-19 at
Arizona last Sunday. San Francisco had the ball inside the
Cardinals 10-yard three times in the second quarter and came away
with only field goals, then proceeded to blow a 12-point lead.
Alex Smith had one of his worst games of the season, completing
18 of 37 passes for 175 yards and no touchdowns.
Red-zone efficiency has been a problem all season for San
Francisco, which is converting a league-worst 35.6 percent of its
chances into touchdowns and has done so in just three of its last
Running back Frank Gore’s struggles down the stretch could be
worsening the red-zone difficulties. After averaging 126.8 yards in
five straight victories between Oct. 2 and Nov. 6, he hasn’t topped
88 yards in the five games since, averaging 54.4. Gore suffered a
knee injury in a win over the New York Giants on Nov. 13, and coach
Jim Harbaugh says his top rusher is “not 100 percent,” without
Gore had 72 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown run in the
third quarter last Sunday, but had only three carries in the second
This is the first meeting between the teams since Pittsburgh’s
37-16 home victory in 2007. They last played in San Francisco in
2003, a game won 30-14 by the 49ers.