By WILL GRAVES
The Pittsburgh Steelers will be playing for first place in the AFC North without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The team announced Wednesday that backup Byron Leftwich will start against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in place of Roethlisberger, who sprained his right shoulder in Monday night’s victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Steelers (6-3) have won four straight to pull within a game of first-place Baltimore (7-2), but Roethlisberger left the 16-13 overtime win over the Chiefs in the third quarter after getting slammed to the ground by a pair of Kansas City linebackers.
The two-time Super Bowl winner underwent extensive testing Tuesday to determine the extent of the injury to his throwing shoulder. It’s still unknown how long Roethlisberger will be sidelined. Pittsburgh faces the Ravens twice in the next three weeks.
Leftwich completed 7 of 14 passes for 73 yards after replacing Roethlisberger. He will be making his first start since 2009 when he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The former first-round pick has been plagued by injuries the last two seasons and said he felt a little rusty after seeing his first regular season action in nearly two years, though coach Mike Tomlin anticipates the rust to wear off this week.
“I’ll trust his assessment if that’s his assessment, but I’m not overly concerned about it,” Tomlin said. “We got a lot of ball in front of us this week. If he is the guy, he’ll get a great opportunity to prepare and we’ll expect him to play winning football.”
The Steelers have managed to survive without Roethlisberger before. They are 7-5 in games without their franchise quarterback since 2005, including a 4-1 mark over the last two seasons. Roethlisberger missed the first four games of the 2010 season after being suspended for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, but Pittsburgh started 3-1 behind Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch, who will serve at Leftwich’s backup on Sunday.
Batch filled in nicely last December when Roethlisberger was sidelined with an ankle injury, throwing for 208 yards in a 27-0 win over the St. Louis Rams.
Leftwich is 0-6 in his last six games as a starter, his last victory coming on Oct. 8, 2006 while playing the Jacksonville Jaguars, who selected Leftwich with the seventh overall pick of the 2003 draft.
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