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Steelers' loss to 49ers painful for Ben Roethlisberger, viewers

December 20, 2011 |  8:21 am

"What is Ben Roethlisberger doing out there?"

At what point during the Pittsburgh Steelers' 20-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on "Monday Night Football" did you first ask yourself that question? When he came limping out of the tunnel on his sprained left ankle before the game?

After every hit he took, thinking this could be the last time we see him on the field this season? Every time he came up hopping on one foot after simply throwing the ball?

Following one of his two first-quarter interceptions? Or early in the fourth quarter when he forgot one of his legs was completely useless and tried one of his typical scrambles, only to end up sacked and stripped of the ball?

Once the Steelers were down by three scores with nine minutes left in the game? Under six minutes left? The two-minute warning?

The Steelers had a lot riding on the game -- the chance to take sole possession of first place in the AFC and the first-round bye and home-field advantage that come with it. And, of course, you have to admire Big Ben's toughness and willingness to give it a shot through all that pain.

"I'll go out and play at five percent. I don't care," said Roethlisberger, who completed 25 of 44 passes for 330 yards with three interceptions. "I told Coach that. I said, 'You make the call. You’re the head coach. I'm going to give you everything I've got no matter what [the decision] is.'"

But the Steelers came into the game already knowing they had clinched a playoff spot. At some point Coach Mike Tomlin or anyone on the Pittsburgh sideline with some sense might have realized there was more to be risked than gained by having the franchise quarterback out there under those circumstances.

At the news conference after the game, Tomlin defended his decision to start Roethlisberger and said he never considered pulling him early in the game because he didn't think the quarterback was getting "knocked around."

But, surprisingly, no one asked him why such an important player who was clearly in great pain remained in the game when it was clearly out of reach.

"He was healthy enough to play," Tomlin said. "We always like what Ben provides us, not only from his quality of play, but his leadership. This guy is a tremendous competitor. We appreciate his efforts; obviously we fell short tonight."


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-- Chuck Schilken

Photo: Ben Roethlisberger is helped off the ground by his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates after he was sacked by the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night. Credit: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images