PITTSBURGH – The one thing that couldn’t happen to the Steelers happened Monday night.
Actually, the two things that couldn’t happen to Pittsburgh.
The first was getting caught flat-footed for a game against the lowly Kansas City Chiefs, showing again the maddening ability to play up or down to their opponent’s level.
The second was losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to injury.
Roethlisberger suffered an injury to his right shoulder in the third quarter, putting the Steelers’ enture season in jeopardy.
He was taken to a Pittsburgh hospital to evaluate what was called a “non-traditional” injury.
To this point, Roethlisberger had received little mention nationally when talk turned to the league MVP.
But there is no doubt that he has been the Steelers’ MVP to this point.
Prior to Monday night, Roethlisberger wasn’t just a big part of the Steelers’ offense, he was practically their entire offense, particularly in the first four games when Pittsburgh’s running game was dormant.
That running game has improved in recent weeks, but Roethlisberger was still the player who made Pittsburgh’s offense go.
And without him, the Steelers are a decidedly average team at best.
That’s not a knock on backup quarterbacks Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch, but Roethlisberger is playing for a $100-million contract for a reason.
There is no good time to lose your starting quarterback, but Roethlisberger’s injury couldn’t come at a worse time for the Steelers.
The result of what can only be considered one of the most questionable NFL schedules in recent memory, the Steelers and Ravens, the two heavyweights in the AFC North, play twice in the next three weeks.
If the Steelers don’t have Roethlisberger for one of those games, it’s a huge loss for Pittsburgh. If he is missing for both of those matchups, well, the Ravens can pretty much start printing their AFC North championship T-shirts right now.
Add to that the fact the Steelers played Monday night’s game without wide receiver Antonio Brown, their MVP last season, and you have a team with some major issues.
Against the Chiefs, we saw why the Steelers chose to give Brown a new contract in training camp. Without him on the field, Roethlisberger, while good, had difficulties moving the football. The Chiefs played a lot of man-press coverage with help over the top from the safeties on Mike Wallace,
Brown with his short-space speed, beats that man coverage.
His replacement, Emmanuel Sanders, struggled to get open.
The rainy, windy night didn’t help, but there was more than one time that Roethlisberger and Leftwich dropped back to pass, had plenty of time, and couldn’t find anyone open.
Against the lowly Chiefs, who fell to a well-deserved 1-8, the Steelers found a way to win despite those issues.
The Ravens are having injury issues of their own, having lost linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb. But the Ravens have also had time to deal with those injuries.
The Steelers are going to be adjusting on the fly to the loss of two of their best offensive weapons.
And with one less day to prepare, that could be a deciding factor in which team wins the AFC North.
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.