Next Man Up

Football is a team sport, but just ask any Colts fan and they will tell you that not all positions are created equal and the success or failure of a team can largely rest on the shoulders of one player. So, it is with this reality that the Steelers now face what may be a long time – almost certainly through both match-ups with the archrival Ravens – without their starting QB. For the Steeler blogger who earlier in the season criticized those of us who worry about no heir apparent for Ben Roethlisberger, I have this to say, “I told you so.” However, let me make my case for why all is not lost.

First, why we are where are. The news was already bad when we thought Big Ben had an SC strain in his throwing shoulder as the primary ailment. There had been initial rumors that he also suffered a rib injury, but that was not the talk the day after. Coach Tomlin did not mention it in the press conference the next day and nothing being published hinted at any other problems. Based on Brett Favre’s (who, let’s face it, was older and considerably more battered at the time) ability to come back after one game, there was reason not to panic. However, on Wednesday, the whole story came out. Ben has a dislocated first rib that could potentially be life threatening because if it dislodges it could puncture his lung or aorta. All reports indicate that the only course of action is to allow the injury to heal fully. Say what you want about Roethlisberger as a person off the field – another topic for another time – he is still a human being first and a football player second, so I believe most of the Steeler Nation is accepting of the fact that he has to do what he has to do to take care of himself. That may mean the team is without him for the rest of the regular season, and it may mean he is done for the year. No one knows, but we do all know it is a situation that cannot be changed. Patience is the only option. What they are not united on is the choice of back up who will try and carry the load for however long it is necessary.

Byron Leftwich gets the start Sunday night over the 37-year old Pittsburgh native, Charlie Batch. Personally, I am a Batch fan. He’s a seasoned veteran with a smart football mind. He knows this team very well. But, he’s 37. Of course, neither man is mobile. And then there is that wind-up off Leftwich’s, which has become a major point of discussion all week. It’s sort of amusing to watch in preseason, particularly when it works, but in the regular season it’s more worrisome. Leftwich was quoted as saying during the week that he’s not worried about style points. Neither is anyone else. It’s the length of time a wind-up like that takes with a bunch of purple clad monsters bearing down on you. The offensive line will be sorely tested, Ray Lewis or no.

However, all is not lost, Steeler Nation and here is why:

• Leftwich wants this. I listened carefully to him talking to reporters earlier in the week. There was an excited edge to his voice. He sees this as an opportunity and is going to do what he needs to not to squander it.
• He was a starter and the face of the franchise for Jacksonville. It is not as though he has never had any success in the NFL.
• The criticism by the Steelers own fan base about Leftwich starting caused some of the other players to become defensive. I actually like that. Say what you will, skill and athletic prowess are only part of any successful team. Some of it is team chemistry and playing like you mean it. The entire team is going to step up their game to compensate for being without their starting quarterback. They are now, more than ever, playing with a chip on their shoulder.
• Remember that the team went 3-1 without Roethlisberger during his suspension.
• They still have the Browns twice on their schedule.

In a year where a less than stellar record will likely be good enough to secure at least a wildcard spot, I think there is still reason to hope.

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