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STEELERS Roethlisberger has broken toes



Published: Wed, January 26, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Pittsburgh's QB did not blame injuries for poor play in AFC title game.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger broke a couple of toes on his right foot during the Steelers' AFC title game loss to the Patriots, but he doesn't blame the injury for his error-filled play.

Roethlisberger didn't specify Tuesday which toes were broken, and he wasn't walking with an apparent limp. He believes he was hurt while stumbling on a 13-yard run late in the first half.

"It's a good thing I'm not punting any more," said Roethlisberger, who was a part-time punter in college at Miami (Ohio).

Despite getting hurt on an 11-degree night, Roethlisberger saw his statistics improve 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 was 9-of-14 for 149 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the second half.

While acknowledging the foot injury, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year brushed off weeks' worth of rumors that he hurt his right thumb late in the season.

"I'm fine, I'll be healthy by next year," he said.

No excuses

The vague answer was similar to the one he offered after throwing two interceptions in a 20-17 overtime playoff victory over the New York Jets on Jan. 15. Then, when asked about a possible thumb injury, he said, "I'm not going to make excuses."

Roethlisberger said his 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.

"My arm got a little tired," he said. "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.

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 create traffic in the passing lines and make it harder for Roethlisberger to find receivers

"Physically, it wears on you. It's a weariness from the whole season, and then you have to play against coach [Bill] Belichick's defense, and that's always tough," Roethlisberger said. "There's a lot of different things they threw at us, looks and blitzes."

Season of learning

Still, Roethlisberger said playing nearly a full season as a starter at least a year ahead of schedule has only advanced his progress.

"I learned a lot of things, not just in this game but this season," Roethlisberger said.

After Roethlisberger takes some time off to play golf and watch his high school sophomore sister, Carlee, play high school basketball, he will return to Pittsburgh to begin off-season workouts and meetings with Whisenhunt and quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple.

Two days after his first NFL defeat, Roethlisberger said it's difficult dealing with losing again after going 16 months and 27 consecutive games -- 14 in the NFL and his last 13 in college -- without a loss.

"You forget how to lose -- and that's probably a good thing," he said.




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