- Previously covered the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star and Oklahoma University for the Oklahoman.
INGLEWOOD, Calif. — After missing a week of practice on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Ben Roethlisberger did what he does best.
The Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4-1) lost to the Los Angeles Chargers 41-37 on Sunday night, but Roethlisberger rebounded from a bout with the virus to turn in a signature performance.
He completed 28 of 44 attempts for 273 yards and 3 touchdowns and helped mount a fourth-quarter, 27-point comeback that fell just short. It marked the most points the Steelers have scored in the fourth quarter with Roethlisberger as their starting quarterback.
“Thankful for Ben coming back in the manner in which he did and getting on the moving train and contributing,” coach Mike Tomlin said after the game.
It was the kind of game that’s been a calling card throughout his career, returning from an injury or illness with a vengeance. A year ago, he missed a week of practice as a high-risk, close contact of a teammate who tested positive for COVID-19 and came back to throw for 333 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Cincinnati Bengals.
This time around, Roethlisberger was sidelined when he first started to feel symptoms of the virus eight days ago. He called head athletic trainer John Norwig the night before the Steelers were scheduled to host the Detroit Lions to tell him he wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t report to the team hotel in order to prevent anyone else from getting sick. Norwig advised that he needed to take a COVID-19 test. By the time Roethlisberger returned home from being tested that night, he found out he was positive for the virus.
“I just assumed I had a little bug,” he said, speaking for the first time since he landed in COVID-19 protocols. “That night was the worst night. Fever, not feeling well. By Sunday, I started to feel better. Then, by Monday, I knew I felt fine physically, but just because you feel fine, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to pass the test. Credit to the doctors and staff for helping get me out here.”
Roethlisberger also credited his wife for managing him and their three kids while he was sick and unable to leave the house. While at home, he participated in virtual meetings with offensive coordinator Matt Canada and quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan and stayed involved in the game plan.
“I think the MVP of the week is my wife because it was not easy for all the kids to be home, for me to be home, a grumpy husband that probably wants to be at football,” Roethlisberger said. “I just had to be the backup substitute teacher. It was a lot of interesting time, me wearing a mask at home and trying to help with homework and still try to spend time on meetings and looking at the iPad and going over plays.
“It’s tough not getting practice perspectives, watching practice from behind. I know I don’t always participate in practice, but at least you’re there and you can see it firsthand. It’s different watching it on film at night. It’s definitely a different process, but we got through it.”
He tested every day and returned his first of two required negative COVID-19 tests Friday. Roethlisberger threw outside with his trainer after the first negative, and he also did a little cardio in his home gym as a part of the three-day ramp-up period prior to Sunday night’s game.
After his second negative test on Saturday, Roethlisberger flew to L.A. separately from the team charter as an extra precaution.
Though he wasn’t at practice all week, Roethlisberger’s command of the offense was consistent, and most of his passes looked crisp and on-target. Diontae Johnson was the biggest beneficiary of Roethlisberger’s return, hauling in seven receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown. Chase Claypool, in his first game back from a toe injury, also benefitted with five catches for 93 yards.
“I saw the same thing as if he was at practice all week,” Johnson said. “Consistency. It just felt good to have him back out there and get the offense back going. Not saying Mason [Rudolph] wasn’t doing his job, but Ben and the offense were just playing well tonight. Just felt like we came up short.”
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.
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