Cowher Denies Roethlisberger's Claim
By Alan Robinson
Wednesday, January 26, 2005; 12:16 PM
PITTSBURGH -- Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was exaggerating when he said he broke two toes on his right foot during the AFC championship game, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher said Wednesday.
Roethlisberger told reporters Tuesday he wore down physically during the lengthy NFL season and broke two toes while scrambling late in the first half of the 41-27 loss to the New England Patriots.
Cowher seemed irritated Roethlisberger would go public with such a claim, that, in effect, suggested the Steelers gambled with the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year's health by playing him when he was hurt.
"We are unaware of any problems with his toes, OK?" Cowher said.
Roethlisberger didn't specify which toes were broken and wasn't walking with an apparent limp Monday or Tuesday.
"Ben does not have broken toes," Cowher said, talking publicly for the first time since Sunday night, when the Steelers lost an AFC title game for the fourth time in 11 seasons. "At the end of the first half, while scrambling, he aggravated some toes he has broken in the past, in high school and college. He mentioned something to Ryan Grove, our assistant trainer, and said he may have broke his toe. When he came off, he said he was fine, and he went back out in the second half and didn't say anything to anybody else for the rest of the game."
Cowher said the injury was never mentioned during his meeting with Roethlisberger on Monday and nothing showed up during the rookie's physical exam Tuesday.
"I talked to Ben last night, and got it straight from his mouth, and that's that," Cowher said. "He never broke his toes this season. ... Nothing more will be done with it; it's nothing that rest won't cure. It's sore."
Roethlisberger's statistics improved after the injury. He was 5-of-10 for 77 yards and two pivotal interceptions as New England opened a 24-3 lead by halftime, but he was 9-of-14 for 149 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the second half.
Roethlisberger also brushed off rumors he hurt his right thumb late in the season. There was speculation he wore a glove on his throwing hand as protection, though he discarded the glove for Sunday's game.
"I'm fine. I'll be healthy by next year," he said.
The vague answer was similar to that he offered after throwing two interceptions in a 20-17 overtime playoff victory over the New York Jets on Jan. 15. Then, asked about a possible thumb injury, he said, "I'm not going to make excuses."
Cowher also denied knowing about any thumb injury.
"His thumb, as far as I'm concerned, I don't think there is any problem with his thumb. He played pretty good in the second half," Cowher said.
Roethlisberger also said his passing arm became tired during his first NFL season, though he wouldn't speculate if it contributed to his late-season falloff in production. He had 12 touchdown passes and four interceptions in his first 10 starts, but only six TD passes and 10 interceptions in his last five -- including five interceptions in two playoff games.
"I didn't throw as much as Peyton Manning, but I threw a lot more than I did playing 10 or 12 games" in college, said Roethlisberger, unbeaten in his first 14 NFL starts before losing Sunday. "Physically it just wears on you a little bit."
Cowher said all rookies must adjust to the rigors of the NFL season.
"Ben is like everybody; it's a long year. It's a long year for a rookie, it's a grind and there's no way you can prepare for it," Cowher said. "To the kid's credit, he stayed out there and stayed focused. Ben was just being very honest with you guys, but again it's something everybody is going through."
Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said opponents began defending the Steelers' passing game differently as the season progressed, dropping more defenders into coverage on third down to make it harder for Roethlisberger to find receivers.
One possible solution next season: "Maybe we will call more passes on first and second downs," Whisenhunt said.
© 2005 The Associated Press