Big Ben shrugs off ankle injury, Browns

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PITTSBURGH (AP) - Jerricho Cotchery watched Ben Roethlisberger limp into the locker room in the middle of the second quarter on Thursday night against Cleveland, the Pittsburgh quarterback’s left foot swollen and his face awash in a painful grimace and figured Roethlisberger was done.

Forgive the veteran wide receiver for his naivete, he’s new here.

A half hour after Roethlisberger’s night _ if not his season _ seemed in jeopardy, the two-time Super Bowl winner was getting taped up to go back in.

“I’m like, `Wow, this is what I’ve been watching on TV from the other team,’” said Cotchery, who spent seven seasons with the New York Jets before joining the Steelers in August. “It’s amazing to see, the guy laying it on the line for his teammates.”

Hobbling to the huddle, wincing with each step, Roethlisberger returned to pass for 178 yards in the second half, including a 79-yard touchdown strike to Antonio Brown with 2:52 remaining that sealed a 14-3 victory.

Even for a player who prides himself on playing through pain _ Roethlisberger’s already fought through a sprained left foot and fractured right thumb this season without missing a meaningful snap _ this was a bit much.

His injured foot in a walking boot as he talked to reporters afterward, Roethlisberger said he felt like his ankle was “going to explode.” Even if it did, he joked, he’d just ask injured backup quarterback Byron Leftwich for advice on how to get the offensive linemen to carry him downfield as Leftwich famously did during his college days at Marshall.

That wasn’t necessary, though Roethlisberger’s prognosis remains vague. Though X-rays taken during the game showed his ankle wasn’t broken, he underwent an MRI on Friday to get a closer look. The results weren’t immediately available, though he remained optimistic he will play when the Steelers (10-3) travel to San Francisco on Dec. 19.

The way Roethlisberger figures it, if he can stand up at all he’ll give it a shot. It’s what he does.

“People want to hate on him all they want, but the guy is one of the toughest competitors in this game,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “He plays hurt. He’s got a broken thumb, who knows what’s wrong with his ankle. But we’re a very good team with him behind center.”

One, however, that showed just how much it relies on Roethlisberger during his brief absence. Backup Charlie Batch failed to complete either of his two pass attempts and took a sack. The team’s third quarterback, Dennis Dixon, was placed on the inactive list before the game.

The Steelers know the only real shot they have of getting back to the Super Bowl is with Roethlisberger in the game. Even if injuries force him to get creative on how he does his job.

His handoffs to running back Rashard Mendenhall in the second half were far from textbook. He basically lunged in Mendenhall’s direction, hoping Mendenhall would find the ball.

Dropping back to pass was problematic, though Roethlisberger found a way to complete 8 of 12 passes and after getting knocked around in the first half was barely touched in the second as his offensive line played some inspired football to keep their co-captain upright.

“We want to be stout as an offensive line and protect him so he doesn’t get in that situation in the first place,” left tackle Max Starks said. “But when he does bounce back from those types of injuries it puts a premium on protecting him. We said we weren’t going to let anything happen to him.”

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