Look who's back leading the Pittsburgh Steelers this week as they try to chase down the Ravens in the AFC North.
Ben Roethlisberger has been named the team's starting quarterback for the Steelers' game Sunday at Heinz Field against the Chargers after missing three games -- including both against the Ravens --with shoulder and rib injuries.
"He has been above the line in all areas,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after Thursday's practice, according to the team's website. "Really, the only question we can’t answer is taking a hit. Obviously that will be answered in the stadium on Sunday."
Granted, he might look like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Roethlisberger will reportedly wear extra padding in his rib area and reinforced shoulder pads as he returns to action for the first time in four weeks.
But Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley said Roethlisberger, who has practiced this week, has made all the throws necessary.
“I am extremely comfortable with his ability to work the field both vertically and horizontally," Tomlin said. "He has great velocity on his ball. We’re ready to go.”
Said Haley: " Just watching him move around, he looks like himself, for the most part. I don’t know how he is feeling when he does some of those things but he looks like he is moving pretty well."
Roethlisberger's toughness is legendary, and now he returns to help the Steelers, who are 7-5 and in a fight for the sixth and final playoff spot. The Steelers went 1-2 in his absence, splitting two games against the Ravens and losing to Cleveland.
Byron Leftwich (ribs) did not practice on Thursday, so if Roethlisberger suffers a setback, the Steelers likely will again turn to Charlie Batch, the 38-year-old who orchestrated a fourth-quarter drive to sink the Ravens, 23-20, this past Sunday.
A Steelers win over the Chargers, coupled with a Ravens loss at Washington, would suddenly shrink the Ravens' AFC North lead to one game with three to play. The Ravens, though, have won 15 straight games after a loss, the longest such streak in the league.
" We can’t worry about what the Steelers are doing, nor the Bengals, nor the Browns," running back Ray Rice said. "We are at the top, and we know the only place you can go from there is down. So, that’s our job to try to maintain our position at the top, and that has nothing to do with the Steelers right now. That has everything to do with the next four games that we have going forward. We still have some great football left."