Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) scrambles away from New Orleans Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis (28) in the first quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar
December 03, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) Ben Roethlisberger insists his right wrist is ''ready to rock and roll.''

Maybe, but the Pittsburgh Steelers star did neither on Wednesday. Coach Mike Tomlin gave his quarterback a rare day off with a showdown at AFC North leader Cincinnati looming this weekend.

Roethlisberger and Tomlin said the decision to skip practice had nothing to do with the wrist Roethlisberger slammed against a helmet during last Sunday's 35-32 loss to New Orleans. While his teammates went through drills Roethlisberger watched in sweatpants wearing black gloves on both hands, though he did his customary post-workout throwing with a handful of skill position players.

The 32-year-old downplayed the idea his wrist is anything more than sore. Quarterbacks always have their hands heading toward places they're not supposed to go. So when his throwing hand smacked the helmet of New Orleans linebacker Curtis Lofton in the first quarter last weekend, he didn't panic.

''It was just loss of feeling in the two fingers and nothing that you can't play through,'' Roethlisberger said.

He didn't miss a snap while throwing for 435 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions, a performance that looked better on paper than it did in person. Both scoring tosses came in garbage time when the Steelers (7-5) were hopelessly behind and Roethlisberger struggled to find any sustained rhythm on a day he completed just 32 of 58 passes, his second-most inaccurate day of a mostly sublime season.

An MVP candidate a month ago after throwing for an NFL record dozen touchdowns in wins over Indianapolis and Baltimore, Roethlisberger has come back to earth in recent weeks. So has his team.

The Steelers (7-5) are just 1-2 since Roethlisberger's 340-yard, six-score masterpiece in a 43-23 demolition of the Ravens on Nov. 2. His quarterback rating over the last three games is a pedestrian 79.3 and he's thrown more passes to the other team (five) than he did in the first nine games combined (three).

Whether it was the wrist or the conditions or poor mechanics, Roethlisberger lacked his usual crispness against New Orleans. At least a dozen passes either sailed high and out of reach to his receivers or were batted down at the line of scrimmage. When he gambled, it didn't work. He threw a jump ball to a double-covered Darrius Heyward-Bey in the first half that was picked off in the end zone. The Saints then drove the length of the field for a touchdown to go up 14-6.

While Tomlin excused Roethlisberger's mini-slump, the 32-year-old is well aware that Pittsburgh's pursuit of a playoff spot will rely heavily on how his ability to bounce back quickly starting.

''If we're not always playing our best, me particularly, then that hurts because the ball goes through my hands every single play,'' he said. ''I need to play better and that will hopefully in turn help the rest of the offense play better.''

Seeing the Bengals (8-3-1) on the other side of the line of scrimmage generally helps. Roethlisberger is 14-6 against Cincinnati in his career and is typically at his best late in the year. Roethlisberger is 31-13 in games played after Dec. 1, though the Steelers have split with the Bengals in each of the last two years.

''I've been here a long time and so it's easy for me to know what this game means and what this part of the season means,'' he said. ''We'll keep an eye on the young guys and make sure that they understand the importance of it as well.''

A victory Sunday and Pittsburgh is right back in the mix for the division title. A loss and the Steelers likely need to win out to have any shot at the playoffs. As explosive as the offense has looked at times, Pittsburgh is averaging just 18.3 points a game on the road compared to 35 at home. It's a disparity that Roethlisberger knows needs to even out.

''We're a confident group,'' he said. ''We feel that we've got some players that are some of the best playmakers in the game of football. We just need to come out and execute and play good football when it counts.''

NOTES: LB James Harrison (knee), tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and safety Troy Polamalu (illness) also did not practice on Wednesday. ... Rookie LB Ryan Shazier was a full participant and should play for the first time in a month barring a setback.

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