PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Steelers dealt with injuries all season. But as they get ready to prepare for an AFC divisional round game against the Denver Broncos, they have injuries to their Pro Bowl quarterback, All-Pro receiver and starting running back.
The Steelers beat the Bengals, 18-16, in an AFC wild-card game Saturday night, but they left Paul Brown Stadium battered and bruised.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a shoulder injury and is considered "day-to-day." Even if he does play his effectiveness will be in question. He admitted after re-entering the Bengals game that he couldn't throw the ball more than 10 yards down the field.
Receiver Antonio Brown is in the concussion protocol after being struck in the head by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict late in the fourth quarter. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Brown is OK and is expected to play against the Broncos, but there has not been an official update from the team regarding Brown's status.
DeAngelo Williams missed the Bengals game with a right foot injury. The running back would like to play against the Broncos, but he'll have to show the coaches he can play by practicing this week. He did not practice at all last week before being ruled out Friday.
Even though the Steelers have serious injury issues heading into the Broncos game it didn't dampen their spirits. Twelve hours after the dramatic 18-16 victory, players were still jubilant when they reported to work Sunday.
"Even 24 hours later it hasn't sunk in," long snapper Greg Warren said. "We're still excited about winning. It's pretty special."
Roethlisberger re-entered the game with 1:23 remaining and led the final drive. He was 5 for 8 on the excursion, including a clutch fourth-and-three to Brown that kept the drive alive.
Roethlisberger went to the locker room to be examined after his shoulder was injured. He returned to the sideline late in the fourth quarter, but did not immediately return to the game. Backup Landry Jones led three drives, but after he was intercepted with 1:36 remaining the Steelers went back to Roethlisberger.
"When he was out and back on the field everyone kind of got excited," veteran tight end Matt Spaeth said. "And then when he doesn't go out there you realize he's in a lot of pain because it's not in Ben's nature to not play. He's a tough guy, and this is what he lives for. So it was a little disheartening when he wasn't out there. And then when he did go back out there I think everyone got that little excitement and that little bit of energy that we needed.
If Roethlisberger is able to play against the Broncos, then pass protection will be extremely important.
REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS
--PASSING OFFENSE: A. The Steelers received an efficient, if not spectacular, performance from Ben Roethlisberger. He was 18 for 31 for 229 yards and a touchdown. It was a familiar formula for success in the postseason. His 92.0 quarterback rating improved his record to 8-0 in the playoffs when he posts a quarterback rating of 80.0 or better. The fact that Roethlisberger came back into the game with a minute remaining after sustaining a shoulder injury to lead the winning drive makes this an A.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus. The Steelers were down to their third- and fourth-string running backs, but Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman came through with a strong performance to help the Steelers win. Toussaint had 58 yards on 17 carries and Todman added 65 yards on 11 carries. The Steelers also got 44 yards on a reverse from receiver Martavis Bryant, which helped set up a field goal. For the game, the Steelers had 167 yards and a 5.8 average against one of the NFL's top defenses.
--PASS DEFENSE: C. William Gay was the only starting quarterback in the NFL who didn't give up a touchdown in coverage during the regular season, but he gave up a 25-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green with 1:50 remaining. For the first three quarters of the game, the pass defense was terrific. Antwon Blake had an interception and a 35-yard return to help set up the first score of the game.
--RUSH DEFENSE: B plus. Bengals running back Jeremy Hill had one 38-yard run. Other than that, he had 12 yards on his other 11 carries. For the game, the Steelers held the Bengals to 91 yards on 24 carries (3.8 average). By shutting down the running game the Steelers forced Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to call more pass plays for backup AJ McCarron, who struggled to sustain drives for long stretches in the game.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: B. Place kicker Chris Boswell was 4 for 4 against the Bengals, including the winning 35-yarder with 14 seconds remaining. He was perfect under poor conditions as it rained hard the entire game. Punter Jordan Berry had three punts downed inside the 20, but his line drive punt late in the fourth quarter allowed Adam Jones to return it 24 yards to help set up the go-ahead score.
--COACHING: C minus. The Steelers were penalized 10 times for 142 yards. In most playoff games that leads to a loss. In fact, the Steelers became just the second team in NFL history to win a playoff game after getting 140 yards in penalties, joining the 1982 San Francisco 49ers. The Steelers were penalized 15 yards for a group touchdown celebration. When the touchdown was overturned on replay review the Steelers ended up starting the drive in their territory because of the penalty. It's those types of plays that will get a team beat in the playoffs.