The Pittsburgh Steelers and Head Coach Mike Tomlin received some heavy criticism following Sunday’s win, from both fans and local media, for the decision to leave quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the game in the fourth quarter. He ended up having his ankle rolled up on during his final pass attempt and was in a walking boot after the game for precautionary reasons.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Steelers had managed to mount at 24-point lead, holding a margin of 30-6, when Roethlisberger and the rest of the starting offense re-entered the game. That drive did not last long, and the Dolphins were able to come back and score a touchdown, though they did not convert the two-point attempt.
With a bit under six minutes remaining in the game, the coaching staff did sit Le’Veon Bell down, but left Roethlisberger in, and he dropped back to pass on third down, the play on which he ended up with the (apparently mild) ankle injury.
The decision to leave him in is not a big deal at all, however, say some of his teammates—namely a couple of his linemen, whose literal job it is to protect him. Right guard David DeCastro told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that “we’ve made plays like that before in that situation”, with a likely helpful note that he stayed in against Kansas City during their blowout win.
His right tackle, Marcus Gilbert, concurred with DeCastro, and with the idea of leaving him in in that situation, saying, “you have do. You take your foot off the pedal and things tend to turn the opposite way”, he said.
Though at that point, it was still a three-possession scoring margin of 18 points, and I quite frankly can’t tell you the last time a team scored 18 points in the final six minutes of a playoff game to come back and win it.
The chances of the outcome changing based on taking Roethlisberger out of the game were obviously understandably slim, yet his linemen seem to think that it was the right decision to leave him in the game with the rest of the offense—sans Bell, though DeAngelo Williams is no slouch.
What they seem to be saying is that they were still playing not just to hold the lead, but to keep going, to finish off the game, and to finish off the Dolphins. That is what they were able to do against the Bengals in Week 15, in a game that secured them the opportunity to lock up the division the following week. The offense held on to the ball for the final six minutes.
DeCastro told Rutter that he “was as surprised as you guys to see him in the boot” after the game, which Roethlisberger later said was only used as a precaution, and was not necessary. He has stated that he is ready to play on Sunday.