PITTSBURGH – Two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger likes to point out he has played through the end of every contract he's ever signed — tangible proof of the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback's commitment.
That commitment will be tested over the coming months.
The 37-year-old's aching right elbow needs surgery. His 16th season is over just two weeks in. His future is uncertain. And the keys to the Steelers offense Roethlisberger operated so deftly for so long are now in the hands of Mason Rudolph, who was in elementary school when Roethlisberger became a full-fledged NFL starter in 2004.
It's an arrangement Roethlisberger stressed is temporary. "This is shocking and heartbreaking for me, to miss this much of a season and feel like I am letting down so many people," he said in a statement Monday after being placed on injured reserve. "I can only trust God's plan, but I am completely determined to battle through this challenge and come back stronger than ever next season."
The Steelers (0-2) were driving late in the second quarter against Seattle on Sunday when Roethlisberger twice clutched his elbow following pass attempts. Though he stayed in for the remainder of the drive — including a pair of completions with his arm in obvious pain — he came out for the second half in a baseball cap and watched from the sideline as they lost 28-26.
Enter Rudolph, taken in the third round out of Oklahoma State in the 2018 draft.
"He would want me to step up and lead to the best of my ability," Rudolph said of Roethlisberger. "That's what I've always believed in and that's what I'm going to do."
Roethlisberger has been Pittsburgh's starter since taking over for Tommy Maddox in Week 2 of the 2004 season as a rookie. Over the course of his career, he has missed 20 games, with 16 coming because of injuries and four from his 2010 suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy.