Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) walks the sidelines during the game with New England Patriots at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on October 23, 2016. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo
The bye week cannot come at a better time for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who limped through a 27-16 loss to the Patriots on Sunday without four starters and with several others who dressed but played sparingly due to injuries.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed the game with a knee injury. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert missed a third consecutive game with an ankle injury while Markus Wheaton missed his fourth game of the season with a shoulder injury.
On defense, defensive end and team captain Cam Heyward missed a second consecutive game with a hamstring injury.
In addition, receiver Eli Rogers dressed for the game but did not play while Sammie Coates played sparingly because of a finger injury. Then, late in the game, star Antonio Brown sustained a quad injury and played sporadically in the final quarter.
That left backup quarterback Landry Jones to throw it to Darrius Heyward-Bey, Cobi Hamilton, Xavier Grimble and Jesse James late in the contest when the Steelers were attempting a late comeback. Hamilton was on the practice squad 10 days ago.
"Health is going to be the biggest part of the second part of the season," offensive lineman Ramon Foster said. "We have to get guys back. It's good to have everyone at full force."
There is a chance most, if not all, of those players return to the lineup when the Steelers play in Baltimore Nov. 6.
In addition to the aforementioned players, Pittsburgh might get tight end Ladarius Green back in the lineup for the Baltimore game, too. Green was eligible to return from the PUP list last week, but coach Mike Tomlin did not activate him. Green said Monday he expected to have a conversation with Tomlin about whether he will be activated this week.
The Steelers practice twice this week on Tuesday and Wednesday and Green could be activated by then, which would give the Steelers six full practices to evaluate him before deciding if he's ready to play.
Green, who was signed as a free agent in March to replace the retired Heath Miller, has never practiced with Pittsburgh. He missed OTAs and minicamp because of an ankle injury and all of training camp because of the ankle and recurring headaches.
The Steelers also might get Bud Dupree back in the second half of the season. Dupree was placed on injured reserve before the season after undergoing abdominal surgery.
Even with all their injuries, Pittsburgh (4-3) is in first place in the AFC North, one game ahead of the Ravens (3-4) and Bengals (3-4). The Steelers travel to Baltimore for a date with the Ravens after the bye, and there is a chance Roethlisberger might be healthy enough to play in the game after he underwent surgery for a torn meniscus last week. That's the good news.
The bad news is that any hope for the top seed in the AFC playoffs is all but gone. The Patriots hold a two-game edge over Pittsburgh and own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Steelers are currently the No. 4 seed in the AFC, behind AFC West leader Oakland (5-2) and AFC South leader Houston (4-2), which plays Denver Monday night.