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Gorman: Why was Big Ben even in the game?

Kevin Gorman
| Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, 10:17 p.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger falls to the ground as he is hit by the Dolphins' Cameron Wake during the fourth quarter Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, at Heinz Field. Roethlisberger was injured on the play.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger falls to the ground as he is hit by the Dolphins' Cameron Wake during the fourth quarter Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, at Heinz Field. Roethlisberger was injured on the play.
Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons runs down Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in the first quarter Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons runs down Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in the first quarter Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, at Heinz Field.

When Ben Roethlisberger absorbs a blindside hit or lands at an awkward angle, Landry Jones' wheels start spinning.

“Any time you see him get hit or anything like that, you're like, ‘Is he getting up? Should I get my helmet? Should I start getting ready?' ” said Jones, the Steelers' backup quarterback. “It's constantly in the back of your mind.

“I didn't see him get up and limp or anything like that. I didn't know until (Monday) morning, when I saw on ESPN that he left the game in a boot.”

That Roethlisberger left Heinz Field on Sunday with his right foot in a protective boot was a scare for the Steelers, who know the franchise quarterback is key to their Super Bowl hopes.

Still, it sure beats how Joey Porter left the South Side.

Whether it was Big Ben in a boot or Peezy in bracelets, both were distractions the Steelers didn't need leading into their AFC divisional playoff game at Kansas City.

That Mike Tomlin was slow to pull his superstars late in the fourth quarter of the 30-12 wild-card win over the Miami Dolphins has led to serious second-guessing of the Steelers coach.

The Steelers acted swiftly on Porter, placing their outside linebackers coach on leave following his arrest Sunday night after a scuffle outside The Flats bar.

Risking Roethlisberger's health with less than five minutes to play and an 18-point lead was careless, especially after sitting four Pro Bowl players in the season finale to prevent injuries.

It doesn't matter that Roethlisberger downplayed the decision, which resulted in him throwing an interception and being slammed to the turf by Cameron Wake.

“I don't know if they had a conversation on the sideline about me staying in or not,” Roethlisberger said, “but I love being out there with the guys.”

It's a shame that Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley — whose first-quarter play-calling was brilliant — left themselves open to criticism after such an impressive victory.

Both deserve some blame for putting Roethlisberger in harm's way. So does Big Ben for not playing it safe. As does the offensive line for failing to protect him.

“You don't want to let anybody near your quarterback,” right tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “We take pride in that. When we saw that, you obviously felt sick to your stomach.

“But we know he's one of the toughest guys I've ever been around. We know he's going to play through anything and get back up and do whatever he needs to do to get to next week and play his kind of ball. We'll have him. Ben will be out there with one leg. He'll still be playing.”

That's not the point. The Steelers had a big lead, and both conventional wisdom and common sense say that they should have sat Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Instead, Big Ben's health is once again an issue.

The foot injury doesn't appear to be serious, considering Roethlisberger returned to take a knee out of the victory formation. There is even a theory that the boot was simply a diversion from Roethlisberger's shoulder.

There was a dismissive tone inside the Steelers' locker room Monday, one that reminded you of the nature of the game and the men paid to play it.

“Obviously, some players are a little more special than others and maybe should be taken out in certain situations, but it's still football,” right guard David DeCastro said, “You've still got to play the game. That's the coach's decision. We're worried about finishing the game out. There's not enough guys for everyone to come out.

“Everyone is looking at it that way. We all know Ben. He's as tough as it gets. I'm sure he'll be ready to go. I mean, it's playoff time.”

Somehow, despite their best efforts to prevent such a scenario, the Steelers are subject to the second-guessing of their coach, an ill-timed suspension and an injured quarterback, to boot.

Sound familiar?

The more the Steelers' storylines change, the more they stay the same.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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