December 20, 2011
The most bizarre thing about Monday night's Steelers vs. 49ers game (OK, the second-most bizarre thing) was that gimped-up quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played all sixty minutes. On an injured ankle, when the Steelers' line couldn't protect him, and with the game decided, there was Large Benjamin, still under center, still getting pounded.
Even more strange? Head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that he never even considered pulling Roethlisberger.
"He's a competitor and I'm not going to deny those guys those opportunities," Tomlin said. "I think his teammates have an appreciation for that and that's how we're built."
Deny him what opportunity? The opportunity to wait patiently once again for Aldon Smith to get off of him, so he can re-inflate his lungs? At a certain point, it was clear that the Steelers weren't going to win. There was no opportunity left.
Let me mention that I'm extremely uncomfortable questioning a Mike Tomlin football decision. He's built a reputation as one of the league's best coaches and he presides over one of the few consistently good teams in the NFL. His teams play tough, physical and smart.
But this one, I don't get. Sure, Roethlisberger's tough guy rep is important for the clubhouse, and I'm sure he loves that reputation and his teammates do, too. But we're well past the point where Roethlisberger has to prove anything to anyone in regard to his toughness. They buy it. They're on board.
Whatever there was to be gained -- keeping Ben happy, the appreciation of his teammates, whatever -- surely had to take a backseat to having a healthy Roethlisberger for the playoffs. This isn't one of those teams that can lose its starting quarterback and be fine. Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon are leading no one to the promised land.
As long as there's something to play for, absolutely, play Roethlisberger. But I don't understand risking his health when there's nothing left to be gained.
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