Ben Roethlisberger: How Playing Big Ben Cost the Pittsburgh Steelers Big Time

Elyssa GutbrodContributor IJanuary 9, 2012

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 08:  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers gets up slowly after throwing an interception to Quinton Carter #28 of the Denver Broncos in the second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 8, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Steelers 29-23 in overtime of their AFC Wild Card Playoff game.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost the game against the Denver Broncos before they ever took the field on Sunday.

In truth, they lost the game against the Broncos when Ben Roethlisberger returned to the field against the Cleveland Browns in Week 14.

Let me explain.

Against the Browns, Roethlisberger left the field for part of the game due to what was called an ankle injury at the time. His return was questionable. After halftime, limping noticeably and much less mobile than he had been, Roethlisberger returned to the field.

He hasn’t been the same quarterback since.

Only once that game had concluded was it brought to light that Roethlisberger had suffered a high ankle sprain during the game. Although it is easy to confuse this type of ankle sprain with the much more common lateral ankle sprain due to the similarities in their names, they are not the same thing.

A lateral ankle sprain will generally sideline an athlete for a few weeks at the most. They hurt, but they can be supported through external measures such as taping and they can be worked around.

High ankle sprains, on the other hand, are a much more serious injury. Instead of hyperextending or tearing ligaments in the ankle, this type of ankle sprain indicates that the main bone in the foot has been pushed up so hard and fast that it has strained or torn the ligaments that hold the two bones in the leg together.

At the least, a high ankle sprain should be fully immobilized for two or more weeks. Ideally, athletes who suffer from this injury shouldn’t return to sports for a minimum of four to six weeks. This injury is impossible to successfully splint to ease lingering pain once the player returns to the field, and it is aggravated by the cutting motions that are necessary to play a successful football game.

Roethlisberger played the next week against the San Francisco 49ers, and then sat out for a week before Mike Tomlin allowed him to take the field again in the regular-season finale in a game that could have been handled by backup Charlie Batch. In fact, Batch may have been the better option since he was a fully healthy quarterback.

It was crystal clear to anyone watching that game that Roethlisberger was hurting with every step he took. His play reflected that: He threw for just 221 yards and no touchdowns, and he was sacked twice for big losses because he could not leave the pocket.

It is unclear why Roethlisberger continued to take the field after it had become obvious he was in pain and ineffective, but Tomlin stayed the course.

The Steelers won that game, but it was a hollow victory: Reports confirmed Big Ben had suffered a “setback” during the game.

After watching Big Ben limp off the field any fan had to be concerned about the upcoming Wild Card Weekend—and rightfully so.

In the week leading up to the game against the Broncos, Roethlisberger wasn’t held out of practice completely, as he clearly should have been due to his injury. Instead, Tomlin allowed his starting quarterback to insist that he was well enough to take the field there, too.



All of that added up to the Steelers squaring off against the Denver Broncos minus their starting running back, minus their starting center, minus one of their starting safeties. The coaches were concerned enough for the health of all of these men to keep them on the sidelines.

But not Big Ben. Instead, Tomlin and the rest of his coaching staff sent Roethlisberger onto the field to face a defense that is really quite good. Roethlisberger put up a good fight and showed a lot of spunk for someone whose pain was so obvious. He kept the game surprisingly close and he fought hard.

Handicapped as he was by his ankle, though, was Roethlisberger a better option than an able-bodied Charlie Batch?

It's easy to say no, but we’ll never know for sure.

As poor as the decision was by everyone involved, Ben Roethlisberger was the starting quarterback and the Pittsburgh Steelers lost.

He should have been on the sidelines with the rest of his injured teammates. With Charlie Batch, the Steelers would have had the mobility that was necessary to bring the Broncos to their knees.

Look on the bright side, though: At least Ben will have plenty of time to rest his ankle in the offseason.