Published: 2:12 pm, Thu. Jan. 14th, 2016Updated: 2:09 pm
Landry Jones wouldn’t mind a shot at redemption. Ben Roethlisberger with his mess of a right shoulder hopes it doesn’t come to that.
Jones took the majority of the snaps with the starters for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday, prepping for Sunday’s playoff visit to Denver just in case Roethlisberger can’t find a way to make it work with the sprained shoulder on his throwing arm.
“You want to be a tough guy,” Roethlisberger, who did take some snaps in practice today, said.
Just, Roethlisberger insists, not a stupid one. Though the pain in the shoulder has eased a bit since Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict drove it into the rain-soaked turf at Paul Brown Stadium in the third quarter of last Saturday’s 18-16 wild-card win, Roethlisberger knows there’s a difference between fending off your two sons and chucking a football 30 yards downfield against the NFL’s best defense.
“Of course I want to be out there with the guys,” he said. “But I’ve always said not at the expense of hurting the team.”
Maybe, but there’s little chance of Roethlisberger being 100-percent healthy in time for kickoff. His adrenaline-fueled game-winning drive against the Bengals included six passes that were little more than flips and flares. The one time he bit his cheek and gunned it, the ball sailed high over wide receiver Antonio Brown’s head.
Having a quarterback with limited range isn’t ideal when facing the self-described “No Fly Zone,” particularly if Brown isn’t available to create his usual open-field chaos. The two-time All-Pro missed practice on Wednesday as he continues to go through the NFL’s concussion protocol after taking a shot to the head from Burfict on Roethlisberger’s final throw. The penalty fallout from the play propelled the Steelers into easy field goal range.
Coach Mike Tomlin would prefer not to think about playing without Brown, though tight end Heath Miller isn’t convinced it would doom a season in which the Steelers have somehow advanced to the final eight despite losing Roethlisberger, running backs Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams and center Maurkice Pouncey due to injury.
“If (Brown) is not able to go, then we’re not going to not make the trip,” Miller said.
Miller has a point. Look for no further proof than Jones, who barely held onto his roster spot this summer only to come off the bench twice to rally Pittsburgh to wins over Arizona and Oakland. That propensity for late-game magic took a serious hit in the first playoff game of his career. Jones went just 2 of 5 for 11 yards after Roethlisberger left, including an interception with less than two minutes that seemed to seal Cincinnati’s first postseason win in a quarter century.
Jones would love to have the throw back. He didn’t get a chance, instead returning to the sideline as Roethlisberger grinned through the agony to lead an improbable winning drive not quite as pretty but no less forgettable than the one he put together to lead the Steelers to victory in in the 2009 Super Bowl.
“I almost lost the game for us,” Jones said. “Lucky enough, Ben came in there and did an unbelievable job for getting us back in it. We won the game and that’s all that matters.”
That doesn’t mean shaking such an iffy choice to try and thread a slippery ball into such a tight space is easy.
“You have to have short-term memory, good or bad,” Roethlisberger said. “You have to put it behind you because you never know when the next play’s going to come and we’re going to need you.”
And though the Steelers believe that could be as early as Sunday, the Broncos are preparing as if they’ll see Roethlisberger’s familiar No. 7 in the huddle instead of Jones’ No. 3. Hard to blame Denver.
Roethlisberger has made a habit out of ignoring whatever part of his body might be aching at the moment and giving it a go anyway. In November, he relieved Jones and threw for 379 yards and three touchdowns despite a sprained left foot. Late in 2011, he tried to play on a bad ankle in San Francisco and was picked off three times. Back then, however, the Steelers were not as dynamic as they are now. They can win without their franchise quarterback, and they’ve proven it.
“Our offense has multiple personalities,” Roethlisberger said. “We throw it short, we throw it long, we run it. We do all kinds of things. So, I don’t think we have to change it. But that’s part of being smart as a quarterback. If I can’t throw the ball more than 30 yards, then I’m going to have to tell coach and he’s going to have to make a decision.”