"Big" Ben Roethlisberger won't face the Patriots this weekend. We can say that with certainty because his own head coach said so.
Pittsburgh's starting quarterback injured the meniscus in his left knee this past Sunday at Miami and had surgery to repair it the next day. Thereafter, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed that Roethlisberger would not be playing in the near future. Tomlin was asked today why he made the disclosure so early in the week and in his answer, appeared to take a subtle jab at the Patriots, who are famously tight-lipped regarding players' injuries.
"We're a transparent group. We don't hide. We are who we are," stated Tomlin. "[Roethlisberger] had a surgical procedure to address his knee issue, so, to eliminate any potential questions or distractions regarding his availability and get firmly focused on the task at hand with the man playing quarterback this week, that's the approach."
The man to whom Tomlin alluded is Roethlisberger's backup, veteran Landry Jones. He started two games last season in place of a then-injured Roethlisberger and mopped up for Big Ben on a couple of other occasions.
"The games he's played, they run their [normal] offense," safety/co-captain Devin McCourty observed. "The skills guys around – which I think they believe they have a great group and they do – those skill guys don't change because Big Ben is not out there. But [it's] obviously a little different. I don't think there's any quarterback that you can find like Ben.
"[Jones is] a guy who we know is going to run their offense. He does a good job of reading coverage, wants to get the ball out there, get the ball in skill guys' hands. We know it's not going to be this totally different game plan. Obviously there will be little changes, little tweaks, probably just preparing for playing against us."
There didn't appear to be any Patriots rejoicing in the locker room Wednesday at the news that Jones will be starting in Big Ben's place this week.
"We don't sleep on any opponent," cornerback Malcolm Butler pointed out.
Throughout his NFL career, Roethlisberger has played through numerous injuries, many of them serious. In fact, against Miami a few days ago, he left the game briefly before returning to action in the second half. So, despite Tomlin's declaration, at least one Patriot insists he isn't convinced Roethlisberger won't suit up Sunday evening at Heinz Field.
"Until Sunday rolls around, I don't know who's going to be under center," defensive end Chris Long maintained.
"You hate to see anybody get hurt, but we've got to be prepared," added McCourty. "I think he was ruled out, but history shows you never know with this guy. We'll see. It sucks that he can't be out there playing."
It's safe to say Roethlisberger won't be in uniform, but also that plenty of Steelers fans will be in attendance at Heinz Field, one of the toughest NFL venues for opponents. New England's fans tend to travel well, as evidenced by their representation in significant numbers at most stadiums outside Foxborough. Pittsburgh could be a tough ticket for them to get, however.
"You probably won't find many Patriots fans in there Sunday, so, it'll be a good environment," continued McCourty. "It'll be a huge challenge for us going on the road against this type of team. We look forward to it though. That's what makes you a good football team. You learn how to go play in those environments."
"For me, this is a new experience," added Long, the nine-year veteran playing in his first Patriots-Steelers contest. "I'm just excited to play a good team. Pittsburgh is kind of a gold standard as far as success in this league over a long period, continuity, et cetera. You probably can't face a much better offense than what they have. [The goal is to] play team defense, know your assignment, your role, and try to play it to the best of your ability and play smart football."
A fine day
From the good-news-bad-news department… The NFL has reduced WR Julian Edelman's Week 1 fine of $23,409 – incurred for an overly aggressive hit on a Cardinals defender – by $9,000, after Edelman appealed. Several media outlets reported this on Wednesday. At the same time, the league slapped Edelman with a fine of just over $9,000 for an incident in this past Sunday's game against Cincinnati.
While stiff-arming a Bengal defender during a catch-and-run, Edelman was clearly seen grabbing and pulling down on the player's facemask. It just so happened that the defender was doing the same to Edelman and Cincinnati was flagged for a penalty. Edelman was not at the time, but when the league reviewed the footage, it issued the delayed discipline.
Meanwhile, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was fined $75,000 for his unsportsmanlike behavior in the game against New England. Burfict was seen stomping on the leg of RB LeGarrette Blount after one particular play in the second half. He is appealing that decision, according to media reports.
Burfict was also involved in at least a couple of shouting matches with TE Rob Gronkowski, but the fine is believed to be for the contact with Blount.
New England had everyone on the practice field Wednesday – well, almost everyone. The 53 members of the active roster and all 10 practice squad players were suited up, but there was no sign of RB Dion Lewis (left knee), RT Sebastian Vollmer, or guard Tre' Jackson. All three are on PUP (the physically unable to perform list), but were eligible to begin practicing again starting today. The Patriots have several weeks now to decide whether and when to begin practicing each of these players.