Ben Roethlisberger’s sprained left ankle looks, well, more like an ankle than it did after last week’s 14-3 win over the Browns.
The swelling is down. The rainbow of colors that surrounded the mangled joint earlier in the week have been reduced to a little black here, a little blue there.
That doesn’t mean the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback is any closer to playing on Monday night against San Francisco.
Roethlisberger sat out his third practice in a row yesterday, hoping another 24 hours of rest will help him avoid missing his first start due to injury in more than two years.
“The goal is as soon as possible to get in there and get in as much work as I can,” Roethlisberger said.
That might not be until Saturday at the earliest, and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said the team could wait until after warm-ups against the 49ers to make a decision.
Veteran Charlie Batch will get the call if Roethlisberger can’t go, though Roethlisberger is doing everything he can to get ready.
Hot tubs. Cold tubs. Range of motion exercises. Massages. Roethlisberger was even fitted for a custom-made ankle brace yesterday, which he plans to wear whenever he returns.
While he’s no stranger to playing hurt — he’s already dealt with a sprained left foot and a fractured right thumb this year — the problem this time is the inability to execute even the most routine tasks.
“If this was just a matter of pain, I’d be out there, but it’s being physically unable to do certain things,” he said.
Arians acknowledged if Roethlisberger tried to practice yesterday, he would have to work exclusively out of the shotgun.
Getting under center and taking a snap is something Roethlisberger was able to do during the second half against the Browns, though he chalked it up to the heat of the moment.
“The second half of that game you’re playing off adrenaline, you’re playing off emotion,” he said. “The next couple days after that, I just kind of shook my head because I couldn’t have done it. I don’t know how I did.”
Roethlisberger was at least able to briefly shed the walking boot he’s gingerly hobbled around in for the previous six days.
The doctors told him to walk around but don’t get cute.
“The more I’m out of it, the more I want to move it,” Roethlisberger said. “Movement is good because it gets the fluid out but I also catch myself every once in awhile turning it sideways or doing something and it almost puts me to the ground.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Roethlisberger last missed a start due to injury against Baltimore two years ago, when a concussion forced him to watch Dennis Dixon play in a 20-17 overtime loss.
It will be the 37-year-old Batch, however, who will get the nod if Roethlisberger can’t play. The Steelers went 1-1 with Batch under center last year while Roethlisberger served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Arians stressed the gameplan will not change if Batch starts, though Batch hasn’t topped 200 yards passing in a game since making an emergency start at the end of the 2007 season. Roethlisberger has gone over 200 yards in all but two of his starts this year.
Even if he plays, however, the Steelers are likely to be more conservative and rely on the defense and the running game. The 49ers (10-3) have been one of the league’s biggest surprises but aren’t the kind of team that lights up a scoreboard.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous, and the Steelers could be decidedly short-handed. Roethlisberger is just one of a handful of regulars who may be out. Linebacker James Harrison is still waiting to see if his one-game suspension for a series of illegal hits on defenseless players will be overturned, while center Maurkice Pouncey is nursing his own left ankle sprain and joined Roethlisberger in the training room yesterday.
Safety Troy Polamalu (hamstring), right tackle Marcus Gilbert (illness) and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (right foot) also did not participate in practice, though Polamalu and Gilbert are expected to play.
Whether Roethlisberger joins them likely won’t be decided until the team is on the West Coast. Though Arians and head coach Mike Tomlin have said they would like to see their quarterback practice at least once, a good walkthrough may be enough, at least for Roethlisberger.
“If I’m not out there, it’s because they didn’t feel comfortable with me being out there to protect myself,” he said. “They know better than I do. I just tell them whether I can go or not and I think I can go all the time.”