PITTSBURGH - Ben Roethlisberger has an unexpected homework assignment during the Pittsburgh Steelers' bye week: protecting a fractured right thumb.
Roethlisberger injured the thumb on his throwing hand sometime during Pittsburgh's 24-17 win over Cincinnati on Sunday. He's not sure when it happened, only that he noticed it while coming out for the second half.
"It was hard to determine it on the sideline, but we did all the tests [Monday], and it's fractured in there," Roethlisberger said.
Roethlisberger didn't miss a snap as the Steelers improved to 7-3. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 70 yards in the second half, including a perfect 4-for-4 during the game-winning drive in the third quarter.
"It hurt, but [Steelers head trainer] John Norwig did a great job taping it up, making a quick splint out of tape and going with it," Roethlisberger said. "Squeezing the ball is the hardest part, but it's a good thing that I had a glove on it because that helps gripping it a little bit."
This isn't the first time Roethlisberger has played with a busted thumb. He suffered a similar injury in 2005, though it didn't prevent him from leading the Steelers to their fifth Super Bowl title.
There should be no issues this time either, though Roethlisberger will continue to play with a splint. Pittsburgh travels to Kansas City on Nov. 27.
"I won't have to throw for a week or so, [until] next Wednesday or whenever we practice next week," Roethlisberger said. "So, that'll be a good time for it to rest. For me, it'll just be getting used to throwing with a splint on again and a glove on, which I've done before."
Wide receiver Mike Wallace said he wasn't aware Roethlisberger was even hurt, though the quarterback work a black brace during a shortened practice on Tuesday.
"I didn't even notice to tell you the truth," Wallace said.
It's not unusual for Roethlisberger to play through minor injuries. He suffered a sprained foot in a loss to Houston on Oct. 2 then tied a franchise record with five touchdown passes in a victory over Tennessee.
"That's just Ben," Wallace said. "You know that something small isn't going to slow him down like that."
Roethlisberger has been playing some of the best football of his career during Pittsburgh's surge following a 2-2 start. The Steelers have won five of six going into their bye week despite an inconsistent running game and a defense that's put up its usual stellar numbers but has struggled to take the ball away.
No matter. Roethlisberger is completing 64 percent of his passes for 1,726 yards and 13 touchdowns against just four interceptions over the last six games and became the first quarterback in team history to top 300 yards in three straight games when he went over the mark against Arizona (361), New England (365) and Baltimore (330).
He didn't quite get there against the Bengals, though he showcased his playcalling ability during a pair of no-huddle drives in the second half, including the 11-play, 81-yard march that ended with Rashard Mendenhall's 9-yard touchdown run that gave Pittsburgh the lead for good.
Roethlisberger said it was important for the Steelers to come back with an emphatic answer after the Bengals rallied from a 14-point deficit to tie the game at 17.
"That was kind of the mentality - 'Let's go no-huddle and try and get down there. Let's answer,'" Roethlisberger said. "We take pride as an offense in wanting to be the best. It's our time to do it, so let's step up and score. We always want to answer. If I remember right, it was a pretty long drive, converting third downs. That's huge."
Particularly after Roethlisberger's last shot at operating out of the no-huddle ended in disaster as Baltimore's Terrell Suggs perfectly read Roethlisberger's call for a bubble screen and came up with an interception deep in Ravens territory to end a Pittsburgh scoring threat in a game Baltimore eventually won, 23-20.
Don't expect Roethlisberger to turn into Peyton Manning, running his own show and spending 20 seconds standing in the shotgun barking out signals. Yet it is a significant step in the process of making the Steelers one of the most versatile offenses in the league.
"We want to be dangerous," Wallace said. "We want to be able to beat teams in lots of different ways."
Even if it means the glove on Roethlisberger's hand has a little extra padding for the next few weeks.