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Roethlisberger a big pain for opponents

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / October 27, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - There’s a certain level of justified skepticism that creeps in whenever Ben Roethlisberger’s name pops up on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ injury report.

The first time it happened this season was after a Week 4 loss to the Texans, in which Roethlisberger absorbed five sacks, had defensive end J.J. Watt drive his 288 pounds into his left knee, sprained his left foot on a different play, and left Reliant Stadium wearing a walking boot.

Roethlisberger sat out one practice and was listed as probable for the Steelers’ Week 5 matchup with the Titans, who didn’t believe for a second that the quarterback would miss so much as the coin toss.

“We all know what he has accomplished and what a great player he has been in this league, and how he has played with injuries,’’ Titans coach Mike Munchak told reporters that week. “We are assuming he’ll be healthy and ready to go.’’

Of course, he was.

Roethlisberger threw for five touchdowns, tying a franchise record, in the Steelers’ 38-17 win. Prepping for a trip to Heinz Field on Sunday, the Patriots have reason to have their antennae up, knowing a banged-up Roethlisberger is often more dangerous than a healthy one.

“If you look at his history, he’s always playing with some kind of injury or going through something,’’ said Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty. “He’s a tough competitor. So I’m not really surprised by that at all.’’

Yesterday, Roethlisberger was spotted strolling through the Steelers’ locker room with a slight limp and an ice pack on his left knee, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the result of an awkward hit late in last Sunday’s 32-20 win over the Cardinals.

“Typical Week 7 body,’’ Roethlisberger described it in a conference call yesterday. “But it feels good.’’

He had tests, and plans on playing Sunday. The plan always is to play.

“It’s probably to every man his own, but I know if I’m injured, I don’t want to let my guys down,’’ Roethlisberger said. “So that makes me go out and maybe play a little bit harder.’’

Roethlisberger’s injury history doubles as an anatomy lesson. Sprained shoulders, concussions, and injuries to his back, thumbs, ankles, knees, hands, ribs, and chest. Not to mention the June 2006 motorcycle accident that left him with a broken jaw and broken nose (he missed just two games that season).

Last season, Ravens tackle Haloti Ngata raked Roethlisberger’s face during a sack attempt and broke his nose. Roethlisberger got it treated on the sideline and never missed a play, throwing for the winning touchdown pass. The nose required surgery.

“It looked like I just went 12 rounds with [Manny] Pacquiao,’’ Roethlisberger said at the time.

Along with a mangled nose, Roethlisberger played last December with a broken bone in his right foot. Two metal plates were inserted, and he was fitted with special cleats.

Roethlisberger molded himself after quarterbacks like Joe Montana, Jim Kelly, and John Elway (“I wear No. 7 because of Elway and I kind of consider him one of the tough guys,’’ Roethlisberger said). He has a stuntman’s pain threshold, something coach Mike Tomlin has come to admire in their five seasons together.

“I think, first and foremost, he is a football player and a competitor, and during times of adversity he distinguishes himself in that way,’’ Tomlin said. “Injury is simply one of those things. He’s uniquely competitive, like I’m sure Tom Brady is uniquely competitive, and I’m sure those guys rise up in the face of adversity, whatever form it presents itself in.’’

After throwing just three touchdown passes in the first four weeks of this season, Roethlisberger has nine in the last three, helping the Steelers to wins over the Titans, Jaguars, and Cardinals. Overall, he’s completing 62.8 percent of his passes for 1,937 yards, and his 95.3 rating is the seventh highest in the league.

“Any player in the NFL plays the game in pain,’’ Roethlisberger said. “It doesn’t matter what game it is or what position you play. So you have to deal with it. It’s one of those things that comes along with playing this sport.’’

With the Ravens losing to the Jaguars Monday night, the Steelers (5-2) moved into first place in the AFC North. When they face the Patriots, it will mark the first time they’ve played a team with a winning record since they lost to the Texans.

With a chance for a statement win, Roethlisberger doesn’t have to be healthy, just healthy enough.

“You ask any player in the NFL how much their body hurts, they’ll always tell you, ‘a little bit,’ ’’ Roethlisberger said. “But it’s nothing that’s going to stop me or hinder my play.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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