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12-22-2011, 05:46 AM
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Steelers QB Roethlisberger stands by coach

By Bob Cohn
Thursday, December 22, 2011

In the violence-heavy, manhood-testing NFL, there is constant warfare between hearts and heads when it comes to playing hurt. Doctors and coaches usually have the final word. Otherwise, short of severed limbs, the heart prevails.

"Usually," said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who would know.

Hobbling with his high-ankle sprain between stadium blackouts during Monday night's 20-3 loss to San Francisco, Roethlisberger threw three interceptions, took three sacks and produced a 52.3 quarterback rating, his lowest in 31 regular-season games dating to Nov. 15, 2009.

The nasty Niners defense had much to do with that, but Roethlisberger's utter lack of mobility also contributed. Moving in the pocket dropping back or escaping trouble is central to his game. Without that he is a different, and lesser, quarterback.

Critics, including ESPN analyst and former All-Pro quarterback Steve Young, blasted coach Mike Tomlin for acceding to Roethlisberger's demands by starting him and then not benching him when the game got out of hand. Tomlin reiterated Tuesday that he supported Roethlisberger's insistence on playing.

On Wednesday, before not practicing with his teammates, Roethlisberger formed a one-man pocket to protect his coach.

"I don't think he should be criticized for that," he said. "I'm glad he let me go out there and play. I wish I could have played better. I could have played better, and if I would have, I don't think people would have said a thing.

"I'm not saying I talked him out of taking me out and said, 'No I'm going out there no matter what,' but I wasn't gonna quit," Roethlisberger said. "He kind of asked me if I wanted to come out, and I said, 'Nope.' So, it's on me."

Big Ben also refuted a published report that he would sit out the last two regular-season games, saying he felt better than he thought he would and expected to play Saturday against the 2-12 Rams. "I drink a lot of milk," he jokingly said.

Although Roethlisberger downplayed his injury, "There were times there were guys around my feet, because I couldn't get as much depth on my drop and I couldn't step into some of the throws," he conceded. "I think that was a factor."

But he basically remained in no-excuse mode.

"I know that I could have made a couple more plays," he said. "I know I could have gotten out of a couple of those sacks. I know it. It's very frustrating for me, and I know it's frustrating for the linemen and the receivers because they're so used to it."

Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, whose club was eliminated early from the playoffs, is in a far different place from Tomlin. With nothing left to gain (except perhaps the No. 1 draft pick by losing out), Spagnuolo has sat down his young quarterback Sam Bradford, who also has a high-ankle sprain.

Tuesday, Bradford said he "absolutely" wants to play.

"You're dealing with some highly competitive individuals," Spagnuolo said. "Let's face it, these guys don't make it to this level without being that. I think we all, as head coaches, use our best judgment. But there's a lot of trust in players and a lot of respect for players and that competitive edge. I think you wrap that all together, and then you make that decision."

Bob Cohn can be reached at rcohn@tribweb.com or 412-320-7810.

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