In all likelihood, Ben Roethlisberger will start Sunday afternoon for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Cleveland Browns. In all likelihood, the Steelers will beat the Browns. In all likelihood, the Steelers will finish the regular season 12-4. In all likelihood they'll do so with a hobbled quarterback, and without an AFC North title or bye to show for it. (What, you've got supreme confidence in the Bengals coming through in the clutch?)
In all likelihood, it's just more evidence that Mike Tomlin does not run this team.
Ben Roethlisberger does.
For a long time we've been well aware that the world of sports is very much a "What have you done for me lately?" kind of universe. From coaches to players to owners, contracts might as well be written on a fresh roll of Charmin, because that's about what they're worth. Loyalties somehow end up misplaced based on what gives the best chance of winning. Not in 10 years, 5 years, or even next year, but NOW.
It's how you end up with the wishes of a guy who left the franchise with it's shorts in the wind just 18 months earlier superseding the wishes of the head coach.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have made their choice, and their franchise may as well belong to Ben Roethlisberger rather than any Rooney.
At times it's great that Roethlisberger has the power and control he does. When he asks for the no-huddle and is allowed to march down the field calling the shots, it's offensive football at it's finest. When he comes hobbling back in to a game to put away an inferior opponent, it shows a pain tolerance many of us who haven't given birth before wouldn't recognize. He is a truly elite quarterback, and he deserves some leeway and a large amount of input to many aspects of the team.
He should NEVER supersede the Head Coach, though.
Mike Tomlin's ability to manage a clock may be about as solid as Antoine Walker's ability to manage money, but he's still the head coach and should still call the shots until his shot-calling services are no longer needed.
That includes deciding when his QB, the best player on his team, the man singlehandedly more important to his team's on-field success than any other person, should sit down. Two Monday nights ago, Tomlin did not make the call to remove Roethlisberger when he clearly was being limited by his injury and could do no more to lead his team back to victory. It was not the Browns' defense and a single-score deficit being fought against. It was one of the best defenses in the NFL and a 17-point hole deep enough to frack for natural gas.
The Steelers did not need to risk Roethlisberger's wonky ankle, and with it, their shot at postseason success, to prove anything. Ben does not need to prove himself to his teammates on the field ever again. Two rings, a third trip to the Super Bowl, and some of the gutsier performances in recent NFL history have proven Roethlisberger's manhood. (Go ahead, you know you want to: Make a joke about Roethlisberger and his manhood and Milledgeville. Preferably something also referencing his devil t-shirt and Charlie Daniels. I'll wait.)
All that is up for debate right now is the here and now, as in the next six weeks. The Steelers have clinched a playoff spot, and with it just as much as a shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February as any other playoff team. They've proven in the recent past that a Wild Card team can make the road warrior run to a Super Bowl title. And unless the Baltimore Ravens lose in Cincinnati, the Steelers will have to do so again.
In all likelihood, Roethlisberger or not, impending thumping of the Browns or not, the Steelers will not get a home game in the playoffs. And even if the Ravens choke, as they did in San Diego and Seattle and Jacksonville and Tennessee, are the Steelers the sort of team that can't beat the Browns, even without Roethlisberger?
At this point, it simply makes too much sense for Tomlin to sit down Roethlisberger and tell him that letting his high ankle sprain heal for almost a full three weeks before a Wild Card game in Denver or Oakland is the best thing to do for the team, even if it doesn't placate Big Ben's oversized desire to be John Wayne in spikes. At this point though, when we all know Tomlin doesn't call the shots in regards to Roethlisberger - when we all know no one short of Dan Rooney does - it's useless. Roethlisberger will play against the Browns. And whether he can walk or not, he'll play in that Wild Card game on January 7th or 8th. And if his ankle prohibits him from playing the kind of game he's capable of - if he plays again in that Wild Card game like he played in San Francisco - the Steelers will lose to an inferior opponent.
In all likelihood, you already knew that though.