Ben Roethlisberger injury history: Recovery timeline ahead of Steelers' 2020 season-opener

by 24USATVSept. 14, 2020, 7 a.m. 17
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Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will take the field for the first time in nearly a year when the Steelers travel to take on the Giants in the first of a "Monday Night Football" doubleheader.

His return should be a welcome one in Pittsburgh after the team floundered to an 8-8 season with backups Mason Rudolph and Devlin Dodges (one that saw the Steelers miss the playoffs for a second-straight season).

Roethlisberger, 38, has been out since Sept. 15, 2019 after experiencing a recurring pain in his right elbow in a Week 2 loss to the Seahawks. The next day, he was ruled out for the season. The Steelers committed to their plan to have him ready for 2020 by having him undergo elbow surgery a week later. The team didn't detail the exact nature of his injury, but the quarterback in August said he tore three of five flexor tendons "off the bone."

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That said, the Steelers expect a fully healthy Roethlisberger to take over under center when Pittsburgh takes on New York. With that, here's a breakdown of his injury history — and recovery timeline — ahead of Roethlisberger's first start in nearly a year:

How long was Ben Roethlisberger out?

Roethlisberger hasn't taken a snap since late in the first half of Pittsburgh's Week 2 loss to Seattle in 2019. His final listed play was a 9-yard completion to running back James Conner, which led to a 41-yard field goal attempt to make the score 10-7 at halftime. Roethlisberger did not return to the game, finishing the contest 8 of 15 through the air for 75 yards.

Monday's contest will be the first game action Roethlisberger has seen in 365 days.

Neither Roethlisberger nor the Steelers specified the exact nature of Roethlisberger's injury following the premature end of his season (though he did tell The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that a couple of passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the Seattle game were the final straws). The quarterback in August finally discussed in greater details the exact injury he suffered.

Initially, Roethlisberger said, he thought the pain he felt in the first two weeks of the season was routine soreness from years of throwing the football. But once he experienced shooting pains down his arm, he knew it was different. Eventually, he found out he had torn three of his five flexor muscles in his right arm "off the bone."

“It has happened to everyday people, but from what I’ve been told, it’s never happened to a quarterback of this magnitude,” Roethlisberger said (via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). “I believe another quarterback had maybe one or two torn off, but not three, from what I understand.”

Following his early exit from the Seahawks game, Roethlisberger underwent an MRI to determine the extent of his injury. A day later, coach Mike Tomlin said his quarterback would need season-ending surgery on his right elbow.

A week later, the Steelers announced that Roethlisberger had undergone successful surgery. Dr. Neal ElAttrache — who has practiced orthopaedic sports medicine for 35 years and who specializes in shoulder, elbow and knee injuries — performed the procedure at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, in consultation with Steelers team physician Jim Bradley.

"Ben Roethlisberger had successful surgery on his right elbow on Monday in Los Angeles," the release stated. "Once Ben returns to Pittsburgh, he immediately will begin working with the Steelers’ medical staff on his rehabilitation, and he is expected to make a full recovery and return to the field for the 2020 NFL season."

In an Oct. 1 interview with The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roethlisberger confirmed he intended to return to play in 2020, denying any plans of retiring. He also confirmed that he was on track to return 100 percent healthy in time for the Steelers' May OTAs.

That said, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of all scheduled OTAs, skewing Roethlisberger's plans. But the Steelers quarterback told The Athletic he would have been ready otherwise.

“I was going to be ready to go for OTAs and the minicamps,” Roethlisberger told The Athletic in a story published April 6. “That was going to be the plan. Now I don’t know how much I was going to do, I don’t know if I was going to be doing team stuff or stuff like that, but I would have been definitely going to be out there ready to go.”

Roethlisberger said his rehab at the time was mainly throwing, and that the cancellation of the OTAs actually prompted his doctor to move his recovery timeline back a week.

“Now that we don’t have those (practices), we took a step back and backed up a week,’’ Roethlisberger said. “We said let’s just make sure and slow it down some more and take it even a step slower. It’s going really, really well, though.

“The doctor is very ultra-conservative moving forward. We’re just trying to be smart, and putting the brakes on me a lot because I was kind of ‘Go, go go.’ You know me, trying to get back out there.”

Roethlisberger in August said he began a light throwing program in February, and informal workouts in May. On Aug. 3, he threw several passes to teammates at Heinz Field on the first day veterans could work out. He told reporters he threw roughly two to three times a week in the run-up to training camp, and that.his plan was to continue with his regular camp throwing program — one full day, one partial day, then a day off.

“My arm feels really good,” Roethlisberger said at the time. “I threw a lot of balls yesterday, and I was kind of waking up today to see how it was going to feel. It feels great, and that is what I was kind of anticipating because we’ve been working more than usual in an offseason in terms of throwing.”

— Aug. 3: Roethlisberger throws several passes to teammates on first day veterans can work out in training camp.

— May 18: Roethlisberger releases a video showing he cut his hair and trimmed his beard. Previously, Roethlisberger said he wouldn't do that "until I can throw a football again."

— April 6: Roethlisberger tells The Athletic he would have been "ready to go" for Steelers OTAs had they not been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

— March 20: Roethlisberger tells The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he has "no doubts I’m going to be able to come back and play well — none."

— Oct. 1: Roethlisberger confirms to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he is on track to return 100 percent and in time for the Steelers' OTAs in May, also reiterating that he does not plan to retire.

— Sept. 24: The Steelers announce a successful surgery on Roethlisberger's right elbow, performed in Los Angeles the day prior.

— Sept. 22: ESPN reports Roethlisberger does not need Tommy John surgery on his elbow. A source tells the network nobody in Pittsburgh is concerned about Roethlisberger's return in 2020.

— Sept. 16: An MRI on Roethlisberger's elbow reveals he needs season-ending surgery. The 37-year-old Steelers quarterback releases a statement dismissing retirement talk in the wake of his injury. Both he and the team aim for a full recovery and a return to the field in 2020.

— Sept. 15: Roethlisberger leaves the Steelers' Week 2 loss to the Seahawks in the second quarter due to pain in his elbow. He is ruled out for the game, and the Steelers schedule an MRI on his elbow.

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