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Roethlisberger brings toughness to Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger seemingly thrives on adversity. The Steelers quarterback has been on the field when others probably would spend game day icing stressed muscles or resting aching joints.

In October, Roethlisberger limped onto Heinz Field with an ailing foot to face fired-up Tennessee a week after getting pummeled in a ragged defeat at Houston. The Steelers humbled the Titans, 38-17, even as Roethlisberger hobbled in and out of the huddle.

On Sunday in Cincinnati, he broke his right thumb midway through the third quarter. The Steelers escaped with a 24-17 victory over the Bengals, who had been atop the AFC North.

Roethlisberger orchestrated an 81-yard scoring drive with his most reliable receiver, Hines Ward, on the bench. He did it even though the offensive line allowed the Bengals to sack him five times for the second time in three games.

"Ben is a tough guy mentally and physically," guard Ramon Foster said. "A lot of quarterbacks show their emotions, but with him you might only see a grimace whether he gets hit or breaks a thumb."

Roethlisberger, who has been sacked an AFC-high 31 times, didn't flinch on the winning drive. He took a couple of heavy blows to his banged-up body but maintained his focus.

"The way I play the game, a lot of those sacks are on me," Roethlisberger said Wednesday. "It's my fault because I hold the ball and try to make plays."

Still, until the offensive line discovered some continuity a month ago, it was peppered with criticism. It couldn't run block. It couldn't pass block.

The offensive front is last in the AFC in efficiency. Only St. Louis' line has given up more sacks (32).

Despite those unimpressive numbers, Roethlisberger is having what Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis called "one of his best seasons ever." Roethlisberger needs only 123 passing yards to reach 3,000. His touchdown-to-interception ratio of 16-9 isn't anything to brag about, but he's completing 63.3 percent of his throws, and the Steelers are 7-3 — a surprising start considering they stumbled out of the gate with a 35-7 loss in Baltimore.

"He's just a great quarterback," guard Doug Legursky said. "He's been able to stay calm no matter what happens. If it's successful for him, it's success for our offense."

"I don't make excuses, and I'm not going to complain about anything," Roethlisberger said. "I went in and grab those guys four or five weeks ago and reminded them that I'll always stand up for them."

Roethlisberger has led by example. He has played hurt and shouldered much of the blame when the Steelers came up short.

"After the first game, everyone counted us out," said Roethlisberger, who threw three interceptions and fumbled twice in that loss to the Ravens. "We just laughed because it was too early. We're not sitting where we want to be, but we're in a good spot. We're slowly working our way to the top."

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