And on the 35th day, Ben Roethlisberger returned to the starting lineup. Or at least that's the plan.
"Ben will be preparing this week and preparing to play," Coach Mike Tomlin said at his weekly news conference. "We don't have any reservations or limitations about his availability. We will keep an eye on him as he participates in practice this week to make sure there are no negative reactions to that practice participation. But as I sit here today, we're comfortable with where he is and his availability for this week. We're going to need him, obviously."
Roethlisberger sustained a sprained MCL and a bone bruise in the third quarter of the game in St. Louis against the Rams on Sept. 27. He returned to practice in a limited basis last week, but he was made inactive for the game against the Chiefs in Kansas City. Landry Jones started and Tyler Murphy was brought up from the practice squad to serve as a backup.
That was last week. The plan for this week is to have Roethlisberger practicing on Wednesday as though he's preparing to start against the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Heinz Field. It's assumed Roethlisberger will wear a brace on his knee, which would be the first time in his career in which he has done that in a game.
"At this juncture we're not going to assume Ben will be limited from a mobility standpoint," said Tomlin. "I'll let Ben and the medical staff take care of that business, and I'll just check in periodically with the medical staff as I always do over the course of a work week."
Roethlisberger did not miss a game in either 2013 or 2014, and the last time he was physically unable to play was during a three-game stretch of 2012 when he had a shoulder injury. In his first game back – against San Diego at Heinz Field – Roethlisberger completed 22-of-42 (52.4 percent) for 285 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception in a 34-24 loss to the Chargers.
In 2011, Roethlisberger sprained an ankle in a win over the Browns on Thursday, Dec. 8, and the decision was made to start him in San Francisco on the following Monday night (Dec. 19) because the Steelers had a chance to take over first place in the AFC North because of a Ravens loss the day before. In that game, Roethlisberger completed 25-of-44 (56.8 percent), with no touchdowns and three interceptions and the Steelers lost. After sitting out the next game – vs. the Rams at Heinz Field – Roethlisberger returned for the finale at Cleveland and completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 330 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions in a game the Steelers won, 13-9.
In other words, Roethlisberger has not been at his best in his first game back following a stint on the sideline with an injury.
"There's always a concern in that regard whenever someone is coming off an injury, but we're not going to lose a lot of sleep over that," said Tomlin. "Ben has played a lot of ball for us, he has great continuity and recall from his time in this system. He'll have a full week's preparation, and actually he participated in a partial capacity a week ago. Hopefully all of those things will allow him to push past some of the anxiety and so forth associated with getting back out there."
With Roethlisberger presumably back, the team's depth chart this week had Landry Jones at No. 2 at, and Mike Vick, who was inactive last week with a hamstring injury, at No. 3. Maybe that has to do with being healthy, and maybe not.
"I'm not assuming everyone is healthy," said Tomlin when asked about the depth chart at quarterback. "We have to see where Mike is before making a determination on whether or not he is available to us. The prudent thing at this point is to proceed with the two healthy guys at the quarterback position in terms of building the plan and let Mike's availability be determined by his health. But as we sit here today, we're going to prepare the guys who are healthy, just as we did last week."
Roethlisberger's return to the lineup will be welcomed by everyone in the Steelers locker room, and especially by some of the skill-position players whose production has declined during his absence. Sunday could mark the first weekend of the 2015 season where Le'Veon Bell and Roethlisberger played a full game together.
"We're going to build a personality that allows us to win this week," said Tomlin. "We built a personality in recent weeks to give us the best chance to win in those circumstances, and when you're playing with a backup quarterback, Le'Veon Bell is going to be a central element of that equation. But even when you have Ben, Le'Veon is going to be a central element of the equation. We'll find a new balance with the new pieces we have."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"Terence Garvin had a knee repair (Monday). He injured his knee in practice on Friday, and we really didn't know the extent of that until Saturday. He got it fixed, and he'll be out for a couple of weeks, I'm sure, with an MCL sprain. Will Gay could be limited at the early portions of the week, and we'll let that be our guide in terms of his availability. He's got a shoulder contusion that occurred in-game.
"Stephon Tuitt, we're going to try to work him back this week and let his availability for practice be our guide. He has a chance this week. Will Allen, same thing with his ankle sprain. And the same thing with Mike Vick.
"Really nothing to add on the guys who have been out for an extended time, or the list-guys – Mike Adams and others. Antwon Blake is managing his thumb well, and had no negative reactions to performance, and the same thing could be said for Ryan Shazier."
ON CORTEZ ALLEN TO INJURED RESERVE
"(His knee) just never perked up to a point of comfort for him or for us, so we made the decision we made at the latter part of last week."