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The Carthage Press
  • Steelers weighing options as reeling Rams visit

  • The choice isn't really much of a choice for Ben Roethlisberger.


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  • The choice isn't really much of a choice for Ben Roethlisberger.
    Given the option to play or rest his badly sprained left ankle on Saturday against struggling St. Louis, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback would rather take the field regardless of the pain or the risk.
    "I'm in the here and now," Roethlisberger said. "That's where we are coaches and players and a team."
    Maybe, but the Steelers (10-4) are also at a crossroads.
    Monday night's 20-3 loss to San Francisco likely cost the defending AFC champions any shot of securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and Pittsburgh needs two wins and plenty of help just to win the AFC North and earn a first-round bye.
    Roethlisberger gamely threw for 330 yards on basically one leg against the 49ers, but his limited mobility restricted the playbook and made every snap an adventure. He tossed three interceptions and fumbled once while failing to get the Steelers into the end zone for the first time in over two years.
    He would love to atone against the woeful Rams (2-12).
    The Steelers just aren't sure they need him to try.
    St. Louis has lost five straight and is the league's lowest scoring team. Quarterback Sam Bradford remains hampered by a sprained ankle of his own, meaning journeyman Kellen Clemens could get his second straight start after joining the Rams less than three weeks ago.
    Longtime Pittsburgh backup Charlie Batch is 4-2 in spot starts for Roethlisberger over the last six seasons, and though the 38-year-old isn't quite as nimble as he used to be, he and fellow reserve Dennis Dixon have a better chance of getting away from St. Louis defensive end Chris Long than a hobbled Roethlisberger.
    "They're certainly more mobile," St. Louis defensive coordinator Ken Flajole said. "They have a little bit more scrambling ability. Ben does a great job of getting away from pressure, but that ankle I'm sure has been a problem for him."
    Roethlisberger doesn't necessarily agree. Despite throwing the ball 44 times in San Francisco and taking a handful of shots in the process, the two-time Super Bowl winner thinks he's feeling better than he was after injuring the ankle against Cleveland on Dec. 8, jokingly giving credit to the copious amounts of milk he drinks.
    Is he risking further injury and possible adversely affecting his team's postseason chances if he plays in a game the Steelers could likely win without him? Sure. He also doesn't care.
    "I don't go out there worrying about playing with an injury," he said. "I don't go out there worrying about getting hurt worse."
    Neither did Bradford, who originally injured the ankle in October then aggravated it in a loss to Arizona on Nov. 27. He didn't practice this week and appears likely to miss his fifth game of the season.
    Page 2 of 2 - Still, like Roethlisberger, Bradford would prefer to be on the field. It's why he refused to be placed on season-ending injured reserve even if the Rams are putting the finishing touches on an eighth consecutive non-winning season.
    "It's my job, that's why I'm here," Bradford said. "I'm here to play football, I'm not here to ride the bike, I'm not here to sit on the sideline."
    Yet the Rams will be heading to the sideline regardless when the season ends on New Year's Day. Not the Steelers, who have already clinched a playoff spot.
    To get to a ninth Super Bowl the team needs Roethlisberger as healthy as possible. Rest is the only surefire way for his bum ankle to improve. It makes perfect sense to leave the final two games up to Batch and the league's top-ranked defense.
    It's also not what Roethlisberger does. He's already played through a sprained left foot and a fractured right thumb this season. What's another two games on one foot if it gives his team a shot at improving its playoff position?
    "I told coach (Mike Tomlin) even if I'm five percent, I'm ready to play," Roethlisberger said.
    And the Rams are hopeful to give embattled coach Steve Spagnuolo a much-needed lift. St. Louis is 10-36 in Spagnuolo's three seasons and taken a significant step back this year after going a respectable 7-9 in 2010.
    A steady stream of impact players to the injured reserve list hasn't helped. The Rams are the league's most anemic offense, though running back Steven Jackson is 34 yards away from posting his seventh consecutive 1,000-yard season.
    The streak is a testament to Jackson's toughness, durability and patience. St. Louis hasn't made the playoffs since his rookie year in 2004.
    He believed then a trip to the postseason would become an annual event. It has not, and there's a chance the Rams will blow it up and start all over again next year.
    It's one of the reasons Jackson has so much respect for the Steelers.
    "This team historically is one of the elite, year in and year out," Jackson said. "They seem to always put a team together that's playoff worthy."
    This year's group is no exception, even if the Steelers have only been dominant in small spurts. That's fine by them. There's still a chance to get it going, preferably with their franchise quarterback healthy.
    "We're not concerned with that people are saying or what other people are doing outside of the building," safety Troy Polamalu said. "I will say this, the team that may win the Super Bowl lost their last game, so we'll see."
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