Monday, October 03, 2011http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/
Ben Roethlisberger(notes) #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is sacked by linebacker Mario Williams(notes) #90 of the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON -- Tackle Trai Essex said he heard the chilling scream. Despite the crowd noise that threatened to blow the lid off of Reliant Stadium, all of the Steelers linemen heard it. They knew instantly it was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, on the turf again after taking yet another hit, rolling in agony, clutching his right knee.
"It's the worst feeling in the world," center Maurkice Pouncey said.
"It tears you up inside," Essex said.
It didn't exactly make Roethlisberger's day, either.
"But you know what they say ... What doesn't kill you ... " he said, forcing a grin through the pain.
At least Roethlisberger's sense of humor was intact.
It was hard to say that about his body after the Steelers' 17-10 loss Sunday to the Houston Texans, a game in which he took another ferocious beating behind an offensive line that was playing with three second-teamers and wasn't nearly good enough to protect him.
The Steelers didn't release the result of X-rays on Roethlisberger's left foot, but he clearly was hurting from a hit he took late in the game, probably on a play when he scrambled for 3 yards. He needed crutches to get to and from the shower. It hurt to watch him get dressed. He had to pull on the sides of his locker to lift himself out of his chair to put on his pants.
A franchise quarterback on crutches is never a good thing.
I mean, really.
"But you know me, if I can be out there, I'll be out there," Roethlisberger said when asked about playing against the Tennessee Titans Sunday at Heinz Field. "If I have to cast it up to play, I'll do it. I did that last year. I casted up my [right] foot and played the whole second half of the season."
Roethlisberger's scream came on the Steelers' final possession when Texans defensive end J.J. Watt buckled his right knee with a low hit that resulted in a 15-yard personal foul penalty. "It was exactly the same hit I took in the Seattle game," Roethlisberger said. "Unbelievable pain."
Somehow, Roethlisberger finished the game, limping up the field as he led the Steelers from their 1 to their 40 before throwing an interception on a long, desperation pass for wide receiver Antonio Brown on a play that started with 19 seconds left. "He's as tough as they come," Essex said of his quarterback.
Roethlisberger was sacked five times, six if you count one by linebacker Connor Barwin, who forced a Roethlisberger fumble on the Steelers' first possession only to have the play nullified by an illegal contact penalty on cornerback Johnathan Joseph. He was drilled from behind later in that series by safety Danieal Manning, who came in untouched on a blitz. It was surprising he got up after that hit.
"Their defense is very physical," Roethlisberger said. "They really got after me."
It can't keep going like this for Roethlisberger. He might be able to keep playing with his foot injury, but he won't last the season taking this kind of beating. He has been sacked 14 times in four games. He has been hit hard at least a dozen other times. Certainly, he could sue his linemen for lack of support.
Not that Roethlisberger will, of course. He learned a long time ago that supporting the big fellas in front of him is a big part of his job. He always talks them up and takes the blame for them even when it isn't deserved. He knows that's one of the reasons he's being paid $102 million.
"I've got to step up and make plays," Roethlisberger said. "I've got to make it easier on my guys. I could have done more to help us win. I didn't do that [Sunday]."
You ask me, Roethlisberger never had a chance. His line played with just two regular starters -- Pouncey and left guard Chris Kemoeatu. Essex substituted for Jonathan Scott (ankle) at left tackle and Ramon Foster was at right guard for Doug Legursky (shoulder). Rookie Marcus Gilbert has been starting at right tackle since Willie Colon (torn triceps) went down and out for the season in the opening game at Baltimore.
Coach Mike Tomlin has no clue who will play against the Titans.
"It depends on the health of the men," he said. "We'll rally and see who we have coming back."
A good guess is Legursky will be ready for the Titans. Scott seems like more of a long shot. At least none of the linemen were injured Sunday.
"We definitely have to do better," Pouncey said. "But we'll be fine. I believe in every one of these guys. It all comes down to execution."
Hold the jokes, please.
As much as you might be tempted, don't say that you're all for the offensive line's execution.
You know the harsh truth.
You saw the game.
You know there's nothing funny about the line and its problems.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. More articles by this author