Steelers ready for bye week healing
The look of exuberance on Nate Washington's face after a 26-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars may have been the result of the major contributions he made in the victory. Or maybe the Steelers wide receiver simply felt like a school-aged kid does right before embarking on Christmas break.
"In my four years with the Steelers," Washington said, "I've never been more ready for a bye than this one."
If Washington is ready for a little downtime, imagine how Ben Roethlisberger feels.
The Steelers quarterback has been battered through the first quarter of the season though unbowed, and he has played with a bad throwing shoulder since the season opener Sept. 7.
His shoulder bothered him so much last week that, as late as Sunday morning, Roethlisberger said he wasn't sure if he would be able to play against the Jaguars. The 6-foot-5, 241-pounder not only played against the rival that had become the Steelers' nemesis in recent years, he turned in a virtuoso performance at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.
After leading his team to a come-from-behind win, Roethlisberger said the week off the Steelers get before resuming play should be enough time for his shoulder to heal completely.
"I really think this two weeks will help heal it up, and it will feel as good as new," said Roethlisberger, who has been playing with a sprained joint in his right shoulder.
The bigger question regarding Roethlisberger, who threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns in helping the Steelers snap a four-game losing streak against the Jaguars, may be this: how much punishment can his body withstand over the course of the season given his playing style?
On the pivotal play of the game-winning drive he engineered -- an 18-yard completion to wide receiver Hines Ward on third-and-8 from Jacksonville's 31 - Roethlisberger threw the pass right before he was slammed to the ground.
No other play showed the essence of Roethlisberger and the risk he incurs every game by frequently holding onto the ball until the last possible second.
"When you're watching tape, he's taking some shots and he's somehow finding a way to shrug (off) the guy, fight through it and still get the ball off," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "It's part of what he does. His body is going to take a beating. I don't know how long he's going to be able to do it, but he's got the ability, kind of a horse back there, and he doesn't go down easy."
Indeed, even when the pocket has collapsed around him and 300-pound linemen are draped all over him, Roethlisberger has repeatedly shown that a play isn't over until he is on the ground.
"We've got to remember you can't stop with him," said Washington, who caught six passes for 94 yards and a touchdown against Jacksonville. "He's not a guy that's going to go down with one tackle."
That quality, as well as his reluctance to throw the ball away, puts pressure on the Steelers' offensive line. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made that clear after Sunday's game.
The maligned line, Tomlin said, doesn't deserve all of the criticism it gets for not adequately protecting Roethlisberger, who has been sacked 18 times through the Steelers' five games.
"Get off the offensive line," Tomlin said. "Sometimes he holds the ball too long, and the offensive line catches a bad rap for it, but you take the good with the bad. That's how (Roethlisberger) plays football. He's one of the best in the world at what he does."