Steelers need Big Ben in a huge way

Injured Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stands on the field with his arm in a...

Injured Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stands on the field with his arm in a sling before the start of their game against the Baltimore Ravens in Pittsburgh on Sunday. (REUTERS)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:44 PM ET

It almost goes without saying that the Pittsburgh Steelers need Ben Roethlisberger healthy to do any business in the playoffs. But what good will a healthy Ben Roethlisberger be in January if the Steelers don't make the playoffs?

That is starting to look like a very real possibility and it's probably why word is out that Roethlisberger, suffering from rib and shoulder injuries, is planning to suck it up and try to play through the pain next Sunday in a crucial matchup against their hated rival, the Baltimore Ravens.

With third-stringer Charlie Batch at the controls, the Steelers couldn't even handle the lowly Cleveland Browns on Sunday, losing 20-14. Pittsburgh had won nine of the past 10 in Cleveland but it turned the ball over an incredible eight times. The fact that the Steelers still had a chance to win it on the final drive of the day says as much about the ineptitude of the Browns as it does about the Steelers offence.

In many ways, the Ravens are no longer the major stumbling block for Pittsburgh's playoff bid. All of a sudden, the Steelers find themselves tied for second place in the AFC North with the Cincinnati Bengals, who manhandled the Oakland Raiders Sunday.

More importantly, the Bengals and Steelers are now tied for the second wild card playoff berth behind Indianapolis (7-4) in the AFC.

At one point, the Bengals appeared to be a non-factor when they lost four games in a row. But after Sunday's 34-10 romp, the Bengals have won three in a row and looked polished in the process.

BenJarvis Green-Ellis ran for 129 yards and A.J. Green caught passes for 111. During this three-game win streak, quarterback Andy Dalton has thrown nine TD passes and zero interceptions.

Now the Steelers find themselves in a must-win game against the Ravens, not because they can overtake Baltimore, but because they need to keep pace with the Bengals, who travel to San Diego next week.

Since 2005, the Steelers are 0-5 against Baltimore without Roethlisberger in the lineup.

That's why Pittsburgh might rush its franchise quarterback back into action somewhat prematurely. According to an ESPN report, the Steelers medical staff have determined that Roethlisberger's injuries have healed sufficiently that he won't do further damage by playing. Apparently none of those doctors have ever played quarterback against the Ravens' defence.

Bucs Fall Short

Sunday's showdown against the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons turned into a reality check for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Riding the crest of a four-game win streak, the Bucs put themselves in position to throw a scare into the one-loss Falcons, but they couldn't take it beyond that in a 24-23 loss that imperils their hopes of an NFC wild card bid.

With Josh Freeman suddenly playing Pro-Bowl quality quarterback, the Bucs came into this divisional challenge sitting on the edge of contention for a wild card berth after 10 games. They held the lead three times including in the fourth quarter when they took a 23-17 lead, but the Falcons rattled off one last 64-yard drive, capped by a Michael Turner TD for the deciding score.

In the aftermath, the Falcons at 10-1, have a full four-game lead in the division. Tampa Bay is now one of four teams at 6-5, tied for that second wild card berth behind Green Bay.

Cutler To The Rescue

In the recent past, Jay Cutler has had his detractors, even occasionally from within his own locker room. But the bottom line is that the Bears are no where near the same team without him as they are with him.

Cutler returned from a two-week concussion recovery and showed no ill-effects in directing the Bears to a 28-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

"A big win for us, a division game at home, you gotta win those," coach Lovie Smith said. "Our commitment to the run really helped us today. I thought Jay Cutler was outstanding. ... Every team doesn't have a guy like we have."

No, they don't. And the past two weeks put an exclamation point on that thought. Last Monday they were thoroughly embarrassed by the San Francisco 49ers with Jason Campbell at quarterback.

Sunday, Cutler was 23-of-31 for 188 yards and a TD. His favourite target, Brandon Marshall, caught 12 balls for 92 yards as Chicago dominated.

Devin Hester (concussion), Charles Tillman and Matt Forte (ankles) were among five injured Bears who left the game.

"Don't know the extent of the injuries except they were unable to come back in the football game."

Step aside, Boss

Hardly a game goes by that Peyton Manning doesn't set some sort of record. Sunday, he knocked his boss one rung down the ladder on the list of wins by a quarterback as the Denver Broncos played just well enough to beat the lowly Kansas City Chiefs 17-9.

The win was Manning's 149th, breaking a tie with John Elway, now the president of the Broncos. Brett Favre is the leader at 186.

"My only thought at a time like this is to appreciate all the great players I have played with who played such a big role in all of those wins," said Manning. "Those were all team wins."

Manning threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns, and, with the game still very much in doubt, marched the Broncos down the field in the dying moments as the Chiefs desperately tried to get the ball back, setting up a field goal that sealed Denver's sixth consecutive win, solidifying their AFC West lead.

Tannehill busts out

In a stadium where Dan Marino used to own the fourth quarter, Miami Dolphin Ryan Tannehill notched the first comeback win of his short career.

The game was a coming of age moment for Tannehill. He authored a seven-play, 65-yard drive in the final two minutes to set up a 43-yard Dan Carpenter field goal, giving the Dolphins a 24-21 win over the favoured Seattle Seahawks.

Just before that, Tannehill had authored a 29-yard TD pass to Charles Clay that tied the game.

In all, the Dolphins scored 17 points in the final eight minutes.

"In this league you need to win some games like this," coach Joe Philbin said. "It's important for any quarterback to do that."

This wasn't quite on a level with Robert Griffin III versus Andrew Luck but Seattle's Russell Wilson and Tannehill have both been getting rave reviews this year. Wilson threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for an additional 38 yards. Tannehill overcame a slow start and rallied his team when it counted. He threw for 253 yards, one touchdown and an interception.


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