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Tim Benz: A look at Ben Roethlisberger’s uncanny durability, luck

November 30, 2018

Ben Roethlisberger said he went through his “checklist” after he got crunched to the turf by Za’Darius Smith during the Steelers’ 23-17 win Sunday in Baltimore.

During his postgame news conference, the 36-year-old quarterback said he “knew right away” that he hadn’t suffered a head injury.

He elaborated Monday.

″‘OK, shoulder? A little sore, but I think it’s OK,’” Roethlisberger said on his weekly 93.7 FM radio show. ”‘Collarbone? Feels OK.’ Then goes the whole checklist.”

Raise your hand if you were doing the same thing as a fan watching on TV.

“Well, he reached up with his right arm and took out his mouthpiece. That didn’t seem to hurt. They aren’t looking at his legs. So that’s good. Did he bust a rib maybe? How many weeks is that?”

Apparently, Roethlisberger had the wind knocked out of him so badly that he couldn’t communicate his “checklist” to the medical staff.

“I’m lying there. I had to stay in the fetal position because I couldn’t even straighten my legs because I couldn’t breathe,” he explained. “You just hear the doctors and everybody (asking) ‘What’s going on? What’s going on?’ You want to answer them, but you really can’t.”

In those moments between when Roethlisberger went down early in the fourth quarter and when he came back, the thought may have flashed through your head, “What if this is something season ending?”

I know that’s what I was wondering.

“He was down for a while,” said fellow quarterback Mason Rudolph. “I was thinking AC joint.”

Roethlisberger has had one of those injuries already. Let’s face it. He’s had just about every injury already.

That AC joint injury came against the Bengals in the 2015-16 playoffs. He came back the next week and nearly led the Steelers to a road upset in Denver.

But more severe AC joint separations can take weeks to heal. As do knees. And collarbones. And rotator cuffs. And elbows. And sometimes concussions.

Yet for all of those significant injuries, some of which Roethlisberger has endured, not one of them has resulted in him being put on the shelf for the bulk of a season.

Not once have Steelers fans had to watch someone like Brett Hundley try to keep a season afloat in December instead of Aaron Rodgers. Or Matt Cassel for a full year instead of Tom Brady. Or Matt McGloin and Connor Cook instead of Derek Carr.

In 2015, Roethlisberger missed four games due to injury. That’s when St. Louis’ Mark Barron fell into his planted knee. The two full years before that, Roethlisberger didn’t miss any games. In the two and a half years since, he has missed just one because of injury — against Arizona in 2016.

Think about it. Since Big Ben was drafted in 2004, how many column inches, talk radio segments and TV sportscasts have been dedicated to sweating Roethlisberger’s injuries?

Hundreds? Thousands? In each category.

Of course, Roethlisberger has been accused of dramatizing his injuries, Bart Scott’s “drama king” reference being the most memorable such slap.

However, from the ice water on the thumb before the 2004 playoffs all the way through the “broken toes,” the motorcycle accident, the concussions and his nearly punctured aorta, the Steelers have never in the Roethlisberger era seen a season end without their quarterback in uniform.

Drama or not, that’s amazing. And tough. And lucky. Seeing that hit on Sunday was a reminder.

Don’t get me wrong. Full marks to Josh Dobbs for making a 22-yard completion while Roethlisberger was getting his wind back. But my guess is none of us would be talking about the Steelers still trying to nudge their way into a division title or a playoff bye — as we are today — had Roethlisberger been seriously injured.

“You never want to see that happen,” Dobbs said Monday. “You’ve gotta stay prepared for whenever your number is called under whatever circumstance it is, whether that’s for one play or an extended period. You’ve to go out and execute at a high level to keep all the dreams, goals and aspirations afloat.”

Hey. The kid made a big throw. And he has those Tomlinisms down. I’ll give him that.

But I imagine just about every Steelers fan is hoping that “extended period of time” doesn’t come to fruition in 2018-19.

Given Roethlisberger’s track record, it won’t. And given the track record of physical abuse he has suffered, that’s stunning to realize.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH.

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