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Kovacevic: No way Ben should play

| Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, 10:41 p.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is taken down during the first quarter against the Chiefs Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is taken down during the first quarter against the Chiefs Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 at Heinz Field. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

It's not often that Mike Tomlin's weekly news conference yields, you know, news. Sure, there will be a changing of parentheses after an injured player's name, maybe a colorful quote about the Steelers' previous game. But mostly, these gatherings give birth to little more than a new Tomlin-ism or two.

Well, Tuesday's came with all that and a bag of chips.

The coach's injury update was so thick he omitted that one of his starters might need surgery (Marcus Gilbert), his description of Sunday's debacle in Cleveland used the word “failure” three times in as many sentences (yet somehow still not enough), and … oh, yeah, Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace dropped a notch or two on the depth charts.

Questions, anyone?

Oh, right. The Tomlin-ism.

The newborn this week was an adjectival gem: “Backup-quarterback-friendly.”

As in, when a 37-year-old Charlie Batch is behind center, try to be “backup-quarterback-friendly” and limit turnovers to fewer than eight.

That term had been Tomlin's talking point to his players all through Cleveland week, but apparently it was interpreted to mean “backup-quarterback-let's-go-kick-his-dog.”

We probably won't hear about this week's talking point until the next news conference, but I'll offer a suggestion right here: “Starting-quarterback-friendly.”

As in, don't even think about sending Ben Roethlisberger onto that field Sunday.

I don't care if it's Baltimore.

I don't care if the Steelers have only an infinitesimal chance of winning with Batch.

I don't care if a 6-6 record puts a playoff spot in peril.

And honestly, I didn't care about much of anything in this news conference compared to this Tomlin assessment of his QB's status: “Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball yesterday. He will take steps maybe toward playing this week. We will leave the door open for him. He has a chance.”

He does?

Let's revisit what we know of Roethlisberger's injury: On Nov. 12, just 16 days ago, he was slammed into the grass by the Chiefs' Justin Houston, his elbow taking the full weight and thus dislocating the top rib. That's the one nearest the aorta, making it life-threatening in the wholly non-hyperbolic sense.

There also was a dislocated joint that connects the sternum to the clavicle.

I'm not a doctor, and I won't play one here. But it's clear to the most lay of laypersons that Roethlisberger's upper body is a mess. If those diagnoses aren't enough, then consider that most doctors' prognosis for recovery, while varying, called for several weeks of non-surgical healing.

When Roethlisberger himself was asked last week about a prognosis, he replied, “I have no idea,” largely because doctors told him they hadn't seen an injury quite like his.

Shouldn't that uncertainty alone be cause for caution?

Tomlin did say some of the right things Tuesday, notably that Batch is “our quarterback right now” and that the Steelers' decision about Roethlisberger will be based on “more than what comes out of his mouth.” But he also said the imminent plan for Roethlisberger is to get him reps and “let the results of that work lead us into the direction we could potentially go.”

Wow, no.

The “results of that work” implies that the Steelers will look at how well Roethlisberger throws, how well he tolerates pain, then decide.

Neither should be the issue.

The singular determining factor must be the 100 percent health of the rib. Not 95 or 90 percent. All the way. Confirmed by X-rays and an MRI if needed.

This isn't about look or feel. If Roethlisberger can magically resume heaving a football 60 yards by Friday's practice, that will mean zero when Terrell Suggs blows through the line to lower the boom on Ben. And, potentially, that rib.

Think the Ravens, of all teams, will take it easy on him?

And I shouldn't even have to bring this up but, without Gilbert or Mike Adams at right tackle, the Steelers will start Kelvin Beachum, owner of three whole NFL games on his resume. Anyone who recalls how the Ravens' Suggs and Paul Kruger tormented Adams two weeks ago will cringe at what they might do to Beachum.

The Steelers and Tomlin can't let Roethlisberger talk them into this one, which he'll surely try. This can't be the San Francisco fiasco all over again. Roethlisberger virtually begged to play there last season, even though he could barely budge on a bad ankle. He lost that night, ended up missing more time, then lugged the injury through the playoff loss at Denver.

He'd later acknowledge it was a mistake, going so far as to charge that the 49ers had placed “a bull's-eye” on his ankle.

This target has the potential to be far less quarterback-friendly.

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