When you're a Steelers fan and you see the team's super-talented quarterback go down with a knee injury that will take anywhere from four to eight weeks to heal, it's natural to think, "Shucks, I hope his absence doesn't damage the chances at a seventh Lombardi."
That's always been the mindset in Pittsburgh, at least since February 1, 2009, when the franchise won its sixth Super Bowl, and it will continue to be the mantra until number eight is the goal. So, will Ben Roethlisberger's MCL sprain suffered late in Sunday's 12-6 victory in St. Louis totally damage the Steelers' 2015 campaign and prevent them from making the playoffs and a Super Bowl run? The way the NFL is so geared towards teams with the best quarterbacks having the most success, it's hard to imagine Pittsburgh winning more than two or three games over the next six or seven weeks with Michael Vick under center.
Maybe the Steelers will survive and prosper, but maybe they'll fall flat. Either way, Roethlisberger's injury is a real shame that puts a sour taste in one's mouth before the regular season is even a month old. But what about the quarterback who suffered an injury that probably has significantly damaged what was looking like the best year of an accomplished and remarkable career?
Coming into the 2015 season, the Steelers' offense was the talk of the NFL and looked on track to be perhaps the best in the league. Roethlisberger knew of the two-game suspension that Le'Veon Bell, his star running back, would have to serve to start the season. But, sadly, long before the preseason even began, the quarterback had to mentally prepare himself for the four-game suspension that budding star and second-year receiver Martavis Bryant would also have to serve starting the year.
If all that wasn't bad enough, his Pro Bowl center, Maurkice Pouncey, went down in the third preseason game with a broken ankle and will miss at least two months of the season.
So much for that great offense, right?
Turns out that, even despite these telling blows, the offense got off to a great start during the first two weeks, averaging more than 458 yards per game. As for Roethlisberger, he was averaging 360 passing yards per week and was on pace to post 5,760 for the season. Maybe even better than that was the praise he was starting to receive quite late into, as NFL.com described it last week, an oddly-underrated career. Yes, despite all of those wins, championships and indisputably great quarterback numbers, Roethlisberger was almost always placed in a class below people like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees throughout the majority of his 11 years. But after the start of a 2015 season that came on the heels of his career-best 2014 edition (in which he passed for 4,952 yards and set an NFL record by throwing for 12 touchdowns during a two-game span, no one was denying his abilities anymore.
But then Sunday happened, and now it's all changed, both for the team and for him. It's true that his abilities, his commitment to improving his game, his willingness to be a veteran quarterback who insists that his teammates give him nothing but the best and his place atop the NFL quarterbacking hierarchy can never be questioned again.
There's also no questioning his value to the team and, sadly, how much his absence could damage the 2015 season.
Roethlisberger deserves kudos for improving his game so much that, as he approaches his mid-30s, he's reached a level with his play that even his most diehard fans couldn't have envisioned just a few years ago.
It's just a shame that his outstanding improvements won't be reflected in the record books, because 2015 could have been an all-time season for No. 7.