As seemingly every reporter had the chapter-and-verse details of the events that led to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being scratched from Sunday night’s game against the Ravens, something was gnawing at us.
Why would the notoriously tight-lipped Steelers suddenly be so loquacious regarding the mechanics of the decision to shut down their starting quarterback for a critical regular-season contest against the Baltimore Ravens?
In contrast, the Arizona Cardinals managed to keep tightly under wraps until early Sunday afternoon the status of quarterback Kurt Warner.
But as to the Steelers, everyone had by Sunday morning the story of Roethlisberger experiencing exercise-induced headaches during practice on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and of the independent neurologist declining to clear Roethlisberger to play — even though he was still listed as the emergency quarterback.
As it turns out, the story that had been pushed by the team wasn’t the entire truth.
We’re told that the decision to go with Dennis Dixon instead of Roethlisberger came early in the week, and that it came directly from coach Mike Tomlin. It wasn’t a benching in the classic sense; as we hear it, Tomlin feared that Roethlisberger — who in Tomlin’s estimation holds the ball way too long — would take another blow to the head against a tenacious Ravens defense, which surely would have treated that white seven in the yellow stripe of Ben’s helmet like the red dot in the middle of a dart board.
So the call was made to get Dixon ready. Though Roethlisberger might have indeed been suffering from post-practice headaches, the notion that a neurologist didn’t clear Roethlisberger to play was cover for a coaching decision to give him a week off.
That helps explains why Roethlisberger served as the emergency quarterback. Though Tomlin claimed that, if Dixon and Tyler Palko had been injured, Roethlisberger would have entered the game only to hand the ball off, he still could have taken another blow to the head if, for example, the running back had fumbled the ball and Ben opted to dive for it.
We don’t expect the Steelers to publicly concede that this was, in reality, a coaching decision. After all, the Steelers are very secretive about matters of this nature.
But as players like receiver Hines Ward are now publicly questioning Roethlisberger’s toughness, Tomlin might have to come clean in the locker room, in order to ensure that Ben will still be an effective leader of his teammates.