I DID see the hit, and I nearly spilled my drink in my lap.
Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback who has taken hit after hit this year—only to keep getting back up and leading his Steelers to a first-round playoff bye—took a vicious 1-2 shot from Browns defenders Willie McGinest and D'Qwell Jackson after delivering a pass late in the second quarter.
Only this time, he didn't get up.
After laying in the field for nearly 15 minutes, he was placed on a backboard, loaded onto a stretcher, and hauled off the field. The thumbs-up he gave on the way to the locker room was little comfort to the thousands of fans in attendance. It's a sure bet that many of them held their breath as he lay on the field, and many more were screaming at Mike Tomlin for being so stupid.
Not that it's all Tomlin's fault; the players lobbied hard to be allowed to play as much as possible, citing too much rest as a potential issue. Even Pro Bowler Troy Polamalu sneaked back into the game after Tomlin thought he had pulled him to avoid possible injury.
"We rested last year and it didn't get us anywhere," Hines Ward stated, referring to last year's layoff against the Ravens. The Steelers went on to lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first round of the playoffs that year.
"Sit all the guys out, now you've got us at three weeks, and you get some rust."
In an ironic turn of events, it appears now that cobwebs could catch the blame if the Steelers lose in the divisional game.
While the hit didn't draw a penalty, it may draw a fine; in replays and photos of the hit, McGinest comes in head first, and clearly hits Roethlisberger's facemask and helmet with his own. So far, the league has been consistent in penalizing hits like this against quarterbacks, so we can only hope that they maintain the course.
Little consolation for a franchise that is praying it's star quarterback is as tough as his reputation says he is.
This is not Big Ben's first concussion. He has sustained a few in his short career, most notably one suffered, along with major facial damage, in an offseason motorcycle accident that nearly ended his career, if not his life.
I understand he now wears a helmet while tooling around town on his motor scooter. Thanks, Ben. We appreciate that.
I also understand that the effects of concussions are cumulative; the more you have, the worse they are, the easier they are to sustain, and the longer it takes to come back from them.
Don't believe me? Ask Merrill Hodge, the one-time Steelers fullback who is now riding a sports-reporting desk, or Hall of Famer Roger Staubach, both of whom had their careers ended early by...you got it: Post-concussion syndrome.
Don't get me wrong: Staubach has done well for himself, running a multi-million dollar real estate consulting firm (quaintly named The Staubach Company), and Hodge has developed into a fantastic analyst, but for the first year or two after his football career was over, he occasionally looked—and sounded—like he wasn't sure where he was.
As for Staubach, if he hadn't been so fuzzy, he might have been more original with his company moniker. Maybe Cowboy Consulting, or something like that.
What I don't understand is why Mike Tomlin had Roethlisberger in that late in the ball game. This was the Cleveland Browns, for crying out loud! The only reason the Steelers and Ravens hate each other so much is because the Ravens used to be the Browns. Regardless of the stakes, these two clubs want nothing more than to hurt each other every time they take the field in opposition.
I don't care how hard Ben pleaded to play; playing more than one or two series against this ball club was insanity, and the results could be devastating to the Steelers' Super Bowl chances.
Besides, Byron Leftwich is more than up to the task of handling the Browns with nothing on the line; it's not as if the Steelers were heavily committed to the passing game here anyways. Three quarterbacks threw the ball a grand total of 21 times for 193 yards, including one by third-stringer Dennis Dixon at the end of the fourth quarter. The rest of the time, Parker and company carried the load, running the ball 32 times for 171 yards, with 123 of those coming on Willie Parker's legs.
I know what you're saying: "Hey, wait a minute! Parker is the starting running back for the Steelers! Shouldn't we be talking about how dumb it was to leave him in the whole game?"
To which I answer: no, not really. Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell have done a fabulous job this year picking up the slack in Moore's absence. As much as I like him, Byron Leftwich does not have the same play-making ability as Roethlisberger, period.
The only sliver of hope is that the Steelers get an extra week to rest and evaluate Roethlisberger before he has to suit up again.
Let's hope the spiders don't hang out too long.