PITTSBURGH (Dec. 7, 2005) -- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger plans to play out the rest of the season despite a thumb injury so severe it might need surgery, partly because "it's not over for us yet" despite three consecutive losses.
The injury is causing the 2004 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year visible pain and is affecting his ability to throw some passes, but Roethlisberger said a protective splint he wears under a glove is allowing him to play.
"We'll probably do that the rest of the way -- we won't be able to take snaps without it," Roethlisberger said. "I can't grip the ball if I don't wear it. The splint takes the pressure away and puts it back on my wrist, so actually I can grip the ball a little better than I could if I didn't have it on."
Roethlisberger isn't saying if the thumb is broken, and neither is coach Bill Cowher, but Roethlisberger expects to be able to finish the season unless he is hurt again. The Steelers (7-5) will play a division-leading team for the third consecutive week Dec. 11 when they face the Chicago Bears (9-3).
"It's pretty bad. It's painful, but it's been worse and it's been better," Roethlisberger said of a thumb he hurt during a 26-7 loss in Indianapolis on Nov. 28.
Despite the injury, Roethlisberger passed for a career-high 386 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-31 loss Dec. 4 to AFC North leader Cincinnati, but he also suffered three interceptions that the Bengals turned into two touchdowns.
Midway through the second quarter, Roethlisberger was hit while throwing an incompletion and instinctively put his right hand to the ground to brace his fall. His thumb hurting badly, he was asked to throw on the next play and underthrew a pass that was intercepted. The Bengals quickly turned the mistake into a touchdown and a 21-14 lead.
"That was something we talked about when I talked to the hand doctor," he said. "If you're going to fall, fall on your shoulder, don't go all the way down and don't put your hand down. That's kind of hard to tell someone to do, so I did and I put my hand down and it made it pretty painful and obviously the next play was an interception."
Roethlisberger said the thumb also bothered him on a deep ball he attempted to throw to Cedrick Wilson.
"I told him, 'Ced, I'm sorry about that, I probably could have got you a touchdown if I was healthy,' " Roethlisberger said. "I threw it as far as I could and it only went about 40 yards."
His injury means Roethlisberger will have two major challenges -- Chicago's league-leading defense and a weather forecast that calls for snow flurries, temperatures in the low 30s and a stiff breeze at Heinz Field.
"I can't put as much pressure on the ball, so it does make the ball wobble and not have quite a tight spiral," Roethlisberger said. "If we have a windy day, we're going to have to find a tighter spiral."
As for possible surgery, Roethlisberger said, "We don't know yet, we're going to have to wait and see, that's a little bit a ways away. But if it doesn't get any better, then we might have to."
One unanswered question is whether the Steelers, who could fall out of AFC playoff contention with another loss or two, would keep playing Roethlisberger if they drop out of contention.
To Roethlisberger, that's not a problem because he believes the Steelers can re-establish themselves by beating the Bears, who own an eight-game winning streak and are allowing a league-low 10.6 points per game.
"We have to have a high confidence level because, if we don't, we'll just get run over," he said. "We know we have to come out and play as good as we know we are."
The three consecutive losses have all but eliminated the Steelers from the AFC North race, barring a Bengals collapse, and they trail the Jaguars (9-3), Chiefs (8-4) and Chargers (8-4) for the two AFC wild-card spots.
"I think we're still a pretty confident team. we know that we can be good if we go out and execute and eliminate our mistakes," Roethlisberger said. "It's not over for us yet."
The Associated Press News Service
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