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Mike Tomlin blames Raiders X-ray machine for the delay in getting Ben Roethlisberger back onto the field

Big Ben and Mike Tomlin both highlighted issues with the Raiders medical equipment in Oakland on Sunday as the main reason why the quarterback was held out for so much of the second half.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Oakland Raiders Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Despite suggesting that his quarterback could possibly have come back into the game sooner during his post-game press conference on Sunday, Mike Tomlin had a different explanation for the delay in Ben Roethlisberger’s return to the field when speaking to the media on Tuesday. Citing issues with the location and effectiveness of the Oakland Raiders’ X-ray machine, the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach blamed a lack of clarity over the extent of Big Ben’s injury as the reason why he was held until the final minutes of the game.

Opening his weekly press conference with a lengthy statement about the procedures the team went through evaluating their quarterback, Tomlin appeared to contradict his remarks from Sunday when he said Roethlisberger had already been medically cleared to play when he had first returned to the sidelines.

“Ben sustained the injury at the end of the first half. We went in at halftime, he needed to be evaluated, X-ray was a part of that. Getting the X-ray executed was not a fluid thing, and often it’s not a fluid thing, with new and unfamiliar venues and things of that nature. Ben was accompanied by our medical staff and Kevin Colbert, our General Manager. They went through their procedures, and even after getting the X-ray, we didn’t have great clarity. We weren’t able to read the X-ray to our satisfaction, and it was probably a dated piece of equipment. So we never had a complete understanding of specifically what the injury was at the stadium site. Nevertheless, our medical staff, doing their due diligence, treated him to the best of their abilities, medicated him, and then we took the group back onto the field not knowing whether he was going to be available or not.”

“Ben has been with us a long time. He does a great job of communicating. We all do. We have continuity in that regard. We did a great job of communicating throughout. Once they came back out onto the field, I continued to communicate with Ben to see the effectiveness of the medication, to see how he felt he would be able to perform in terms of function and being able to do the things he needed to do.

“We continued to talk about it, and while talking about it, the game is going on. We said that because of a lack of (medical) information and the situation not being a comfortable or ideal one, we said we would only re-insert him into the game if we felt it was necessary. As the game unfolded, it became necessary. We did (re-insert him). We really appreciate what he was able to do and the effort that he was able to provide to give us a chance. It didn’t end in the way that we would like, but that is just an outline of what transpired.”

Appearing on his weekly radio show earlier in the day, Big Ben’s comments mirrored those of his head coach as he also questioned the age and availability of the Raiders’ medical equipment.

While we are unlikely to ever hear anything from Oakland about the quality of their X-ray machine or otherwise, it was interesting to note the observations of a former NFL team doctor who has had plenty of experience working at the Oakland Coliseum. In his column for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dr. David Chao questioned the validity of Pittsburgh’s complaints about the Raiders’ medical equipment, even if he did acknowledge their issue with its location.

“Roethlisberger made comments on his radio show about the X-ray machine at the stadium being “old” and the results being inconclusive. It took an MRI the day after to confirm the fracture. However, the machine being old doesn’t ring as a valid explanation for Roethlisberger not being put back in the game. Rib fractures often don’t show up even on X-rays on new machines. Based on the anatomy, it is hard to see a small crack or non-displaced rib fracture with any X-ray. What any X-ray will tell you is if there were displaced fractures or multiple fractures. These are the kind where the worry for chest/lung issues are higher. Routinely, a single rib fracture allows a player to return to games. What an X-tray does is tell you that there is no displaced rib fracture or fracture of multiple ribs where there is risk of further injury to the lungs.”

“What makes more sense is the logistics involved at the Oakland Coliseum. It was reported Tuesday that Tomlin also said the process of getting the X-ray was “not very fluid” and that the X-ray technician at the Coliseum was temporarily unavailable. Tomlin said the Steelers got the X-rays at some point in the third quarter. The setup in Oakland is awful. The X-ray machine is a long way from the field and up three flights of stairs. There are certainly complications there that don’t arise in other stadium.”

However, the real question in response to this new information must surely be - If the Steelers genuinely had no clarity about the extent of Roethlisberger’s injury, how could they risk putting him back into the game at all?

Either Pittsburgh had insufficient information to work from to be able to medically clear him to play, or they were secure enough in their medical diagnosis to believe that letting him back on the field would not result in serious injury. Given that he was not seen receiving treatment on the sidelines during the second half, what suddenly convinced the medical staff to allow him to return just seconds after Oakland took the lead?

As contractidactory as this explanation from Tomlin and Roethlisberger might be for the quarterbacks limited participation in the second half against the Raiders, it is more palatable to swallow than the more obvious reasoning that does not reflect well on the team.

For some, it instead appears as if the Steelers thought they could get by without their star quarterback and were content to rely on their defense to get the job done protecting a four point lead against a 2-10 team. A plan that failed in devastating fashion.

This latest explanation from the team’s leaders might have holes in it, but I find myself hoping it is true rather than believe that Pittsburgh’s arrogance may have potentially cost them another win.