The PIttsburgh Steelers saw their worst fears realized when Ben Roethlisberger went down in Monday's game after being sandwiched by two Chiefs linebackers. Roethlisberger did not return to the game and has since been ruled outfor Sunday's game against the Ravens. He will be replaced by Byron Leftwich.
This is not a good time for the Steelers to lose their quarterback. They face the Ravens in two of the next three weeks, and both games will be critical to the playoff race in the AFC North.
How much time Roethlisberger misses is up for debate, but we know it'll be at least one game. To gain some insight into what the loss of Roethlisberger means to the Steelers, we talked with Neal Coolong of Behind The Steel Curtain.
What does Roethlisberger's injury mean to the Steelers?
It means basically everything. I hate to be melodramatic (and I'm sure Byron Leftwich can improve on his performance when he has a week to prepare as the starter), but Roethlisberger is an MVP candidate. The offense lived and breathed through him. Kansas City did a great job of squeezing him in the pocket, which forced throws from bad angles, and an overall poor night. He was off, and the Steelers offense didn't move the ball.
What are you expecting out of Byron Leftwich?
The axiom Steelers coach Mike Tomlin uses often is "the standard is the standard." He means when one guy goes down, his replacement prepares to produce at the same level. No one could honestly expect Leftwich to play at the same level as Roethlisberger, but he has to prepare to run the same offense. He needs to hit the (suddenly thin) Steelers receiving corps down the field to open up the running game. Judging by his arm strength, they'll be able to get the ball down field, they just need to give him three seconds to find a receiver and another two to throw.
Are you worried that this changes the Steelers playoff hopes?
The Steelers potentially lost their best player for a few games, and at the absolute worst possible time. They're already behind the 8-ball a little bit due to conference losses to Tennessee, Oakland and Denver (3-3 in the AFC now), but they can still stay very competitive for a division title with three consecutive AFC North games approaching (vs. Baltimore, at Cleveland, at Baltimore). Losing Roethlisberger for any combination of games in that time will hurt them, absolutely. That division record hurts the Wild Card race against Indianapolis, but fortunately for Pittsburgh, they already sit with a two-game lead for the last Wild Card spot, and only trail the Ravens with two games against them coming up.