Roethlisberger injury overshadows Steelers' win over Chiefs
Monday night's game? Mostly forgettable, save for a late rally to force (a very brief) overtime. A rain-soaked, wind-driven cavalcade of mistakes and missed opportunities.
The ramifications of what went down in Pittsburgh's 16-13 win over the Chiefs, though, could dictate how next week's Steelers-Ravens game plays out -- not to mention the remainder of the AFC North race.
Pittsburgh trailed 10-0 early, only to rally back with 13 unanswered before Kansas City forced overtime. But the lasting image from this one might be of Ben Roethlisberger, pads off, arm limp against his body, stepping out of the Steelers' locker room and onto a golf cart.
On Pittsburgh's opening possession of the third quarter, Roethlisberger dropped back to throw on a 3rd-and-4. Kansas City, as it did constantly all night, generated some pressure off the edges.
How many times have we seen a similar scenario occur, only for Roethlisberger to step up, avoid the rush and make a play?
He was not so lucky this time. Justin Houston hammered Roethlisberger from the front, Tamba Hali sandwiched him from the blindside and the Chiefs' duo drove him down to the turf, where he landed hard on his throwing arm.
Roethlisberger did not return to the game. Will he return again this season? Pittsburgh now sits 6-3, winner of four straight ... with two of its next three games against first place and arch-rival Baltimore.
"Ben has a right shoulder injury that's being evaluated," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in his postgame press conference. "To my knowledge, he was (taken out of the stadium for further tests), but I don't know where he is right now."
The writing was on the wall early that this game might be unusual. With everyone expecting the Steelers to roll to an easy victory (and offensive coordinator Todd Haley to run it up on his old team), the Chiefs instead sprinted out to a shocking 10-0 -- their first lead of the season.
Pittsburgh erased that deficit by halftime, with Mike Wallace tying the game on a ridiculous sprawling catch in the end zone.
The Chiefs twice appeared to retake the lead in the third quarter, first when Dwayne Bowe had a touchdown wiped out by a dubious holding penalty (Ryan Succop then missed a chip shot field), and then again when a fumble by Byron Leftwich was overturned on a review.
Leftwich later mustered just enough offense to move Pittsburgh into field-goal range, with the help of two more costly Chiefs penalties. That looked like it would be enough for the Steelers, until Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe connected on a 4th-and-15 in the game's closing seconds to setup a tying Succop kick.
Cassel's next pass was far less successful -- on the second play of overtime, he fired an interception to Lawrence Timmons, who returned it to Kansas City's 5. Pittsburgh won the game seconds later with a Shaun Suisham field goal.
And rather quickly, the attention turned back to speculating on Roethlisberger's status.
"I'm not going to get into hypotheticals," Tomlin said. "I'll wait to see what his status is like before I make any determination. ... I don't live in the hypothetical world. I'll wait until I get information and then I'll respond."
The last thing the Steelers needed Monday -- aside from, say, a loss to the lowly Chiefs -- was another round of injuries. Already on Pittsburgh's inactive list heading into the game were Troy Polamalu, Antonio Brown, Rashard Mendenhall and offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert.
This was not a good weekend to be an NFL quarterback, however. Roethlisberger's shoulder injury came just one day after Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco all lost their starting QBs to concussions.
The only positive news for the Steelers, a very important silver lining on a troublesome night, was that unlike the Bears, Eagles and 49ers, they won their game. By doing so they put the AFC North lead up for grabs in next Sunday night's game against Baltimore.
Now, Pittsburgh will wait to see if Leftwich has to carry the load in that one as well.
"The great thing about Byron is he's got a very consistent demeanor, a very calming presence," said Tomlin of Leftwich, whose last meaningful action in an NFL game prior to Monday came back in 2009. "It wasn't a pretty body of work by any of us, but his body of work remains steady."
Steady, calming and consistent may have gotten the job done against the now 1-8 Chiefs. What awaits ought to present a stiffer test.
Pittsburgh hosts the Ravens in Week 11, then travels to Baltimore in Week 13, with a game against Cleveland stuffed in between. The Steelers' 6-3 record has them in a comfortable spot in the AFC wild-card race. But if they want to maintain that hold on a postseason spot or truly contend for the North title, these next three weeks are monumental. Where the Steelers' season goes from here may now depend on Roethlisberger's wounded right shoulder. Simply surviving, as Pittsburgh did Monday night, likely won't be good enough.