(Although this incident technically happened in the offseason, the punishment was handed down during the regular season.)
In March of 2010, Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was involved in a sexual assault investigation. This was centered around the acqusation of a 20-year old college student in a Georgia nightclub.
The Steelers immediately began contacting other teams about trading a top 10 pick in the draft for Roethlisberger, including the Rams, Raiders, 49ers, Jaguars, Bills, Seahawks, and Browns.
They didn’t receive much interest in Roethlisberger and kept him for the 2010 season.
Despite having no criminal charges being filed against Roethlisberger, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for the first six games of the 2010 season. The suspension was later shortened to four games for good behavior.
Roethlisberger was the 16th player suspended under new commissioner Roger Goodell but he was the first to be suspended who hadn’t been arrested or charged with a crime. The NFL allowed Roethlisberger to participate in preseason games.
Goodell’s punishment was influenced by a previous incident in 2008 when Roethlisberger was also accused of sexually assaulting a woman while in a celebrity golf tournament.
No charges stemmed from that incident either. (However I always say if you’re accused once, you may or may not be guilty. If you’re accused twice, you’re guilty.)
The Steelers traded a seventh round draft pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for quarterback Byron Leftwich, adding depth to their quarterback rotation that already included Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch.
The Steelers used Dennis Dixon in the season’s first game, which was won over the Atlanta Falcons, 15-9, on Rashard Mendenhall’s 50-yard touchdown run in overtime. Dixon threw no touchdowns, but had an interception.
In week 2, Dixon suffered an MCL sprain, which resulted in him being placed on IR. Charlie Batch came in and led the Steelers to a win over the Titans.
Batch quarterbacked the Steelers to a big 38-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week 3, but the Ravens defeated the Steelers 17-14 in week 4.
In all, the Steelers won three of the their four games during Roethlisberger’s suspension, including impressive victories over the NFC’s top-seeded Atlanta Falcons and the eventual 10-win Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They lost to the Baltimore Ravens, which they probably would have won had Roethlisberger played.
After the bye week, Roethlisberger returned and led the Steelers to their usual 12-4 record and a bye in the first round of the postseason. For the season, he tossed 17 touchdowns, five interceptions, and posted a 97.0 passer rating.
In my opinion, the Steelers would have finished 13-3 and not 12-4 had Roethlisberger not been suspended. They still wouldn’t have landed the one seed in the postseason. Ultimately, the suspension didn’t affect much of the season.