Cowher: Big Ben questionable Sunday, but ...

Updated: October 24, 2006, 6:17 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger's second concussion in slightly more than four months may not keep him out of the Pittsburgh Steelers' lineup Sunday or prevent him from practicing this week.

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The Super Bowl-winning quarterback is questionable for Sunday's game in Oakland, but Bill Cowher sounded Tuesday very much like a coach who expects to have his starting quarterback ready to go this week.

"He had an MRI done on his brain and neck, and both of those came back normal," Cowher said. "We also did the concussion test, and we're very encouraged by the results. We'll monitor his progress as the week goes on, but again, I emphasize that we're very encouraged by where he is."

Asked if Roethlisberger would practice Wednesday, Cowher said, "We'll see how he feels."

Roethlisberger was briefly knocked unconscious during a helmet-to-helmet hit with the Falcons' Chauncey Davis midway through the third quarter of Pittsburgh's 41-38 overtime loss in Atlanta. The injury came in Roethlisberger's best game of the season -- he was 16-of-22 for 238 yards and three touchdowns.

Cowher expects the NFL to review the hit for a possible fine or disciplinary action, as the league does with almost any play that involves a quarterback's head injury.

Roethlisberger was woozy and appeared dazed a few minutes later while being taken to the locker room on a motorized cart, but returned later to watch the rest of the game on the sideline.

His replacement, Charlie Batch, threw two touchdown passes during a day the Steelers passed for 413 yards in 60 minutes -- the most they've had in a game in which their quarterback never stepped on the field past the fourth quarter. Their only better passing day was Tommy Maddox's 473-yard effort in the Steelers' previous game against Atlanta, a 34-34 tie in 2002 that lasted 75 minutes.

Roethlisberger was deemed well enough to fly home on the team plane Sunday night, and he drove his car to a team meeting Monday. Later Monday, he met with a neurosurgeon and took the ImPACT concussion test that many NFL teams use to determine the severity of a concussion and when a player is fit to return.

The test measures a player's memory, attention, mental processing speed and reaction time. The results are compared to those taken when the player was healthy.

"He will take the test again later in the week to make sure he is cleared medically before we would subject him to playing," Cowher said. "Again, it's too early to make a final decision on that. We will definitely do so by taking all necessary precautions to make sure he is cleared."

This is Roethlisberger's third significant medical-related problem since June. He also sustained a concussion, and needed seven hours of surgery mostly to repair facial injuries, when his motorcycle collided with a car June 12 in Pittsburgh.

He also missed the Sept. 7 season opener against Miami after needing an emergency appendectomy Sept. 3. He looked rusty after returning, losing his first three starts, but has looked much sharper the last two games by going 32-of-41 for 476 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions against the Chiefs and Falcons.

By contrast, he had seven interceptions and no touchdowns in his first three starts.

Despite the Steelers' optimism about Roethlisberger's condition, a football player receiving a second concussion in a relatively brief time can be susceptible to succeeding concussions, according to doctors who have studied the issue.

Also, a player receiving multiple concussions in a brief time span may need a longer recovery time before playing again than one coming off his initial concussion.

"I don't take these things lightly and I don't think anybody should," Cowher said. "I think as coaches, we have to know where our boundaries end. We have to leave that up to the people who are professionals. ... If they're not cleared, they're not going to play."

Several doctors that the Steelers (2-4) use to test their players are those that helped develop the concussion tests and analyze the data for the NFL. The tests also are being implemented on the college and high school level, with several studies done in the Pittsburgh area.

The Steelers' lengthy injury list includes four other starters who are questionable: linebacker Joey Porter and nose tackle Casey Hampton with hamstring injuries, Clark Haggans (ankle) and wide receiver Cedrick Wilson (groin). Porter has missed the last two games.

Linebacker James Harrison (ankle) and safety Mike Logan (hamstring) are out, and rookie wide receiver Willie Reid (foot) is doubtful.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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