Few scenes Sunday seemed more incongruous than Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger on the sideline watching their teams trying to score without them.
Even odder is the news Monday that Big Ben is done for the year with an elbow injury, and Brees is having hand surgery that will sideline him for a long period.
This was damage of the highest order for two franchises that entered the season with championship goals.
Brees tore a ligament near his thumb and Roethlisberger hurt his elbow, also requiring surgery. Also worrisome: The injuries occurred to their right arms, the ones they use to make their millions — and help their teams compete for titles. What will be the prognosis beyond this season for Roethlisberger, and for later in the schedule for Brees, who is expected to return in a couple of months.
It’s fair to say neither New Orleans nor Pittsburgh is much of a Super Bowl threat without its veteran quarterback, each having taken its team to an NFL title. Sure, Mason Rudolph looked solid enough, throwing for two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the Steelers’ 28-26 loss to Seattle. And Teddy Bridgewater, though he struggled against the Rams’ strong defense Sunday in a 27-9 loss, is considered by many the best insurance policy at quarterback in the NFL.
Still, we’re talking about two likely Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees five years after each retires. While Brees is 40 and Roethlisberger is 37, neither has talked about hanging it up. Perhaps they’re inspired by the 92-year-old, uh, 42-year-old Tom Brady in New England.
Brees was not able to grip the football, an impossible situation for a quarterback, particularly one with the Midas touch that Brees owns. New Orleans (1-1) is fortunate the NFC South is not looking particularly imposing, and barring a major surgery, the 19-year veteran figures to be back behind center in 2019.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff sure hopes so.
“I told him I’m hoping for the best,” Goff said of his postgame chat with Brees. “He’s a great player for this league, a face of the league, and somebody we need in the league.”
Brees’ career was in doubt in 2006 after shoulder surgery made teams wary of signing the free agent who had lost his job in San Diego to Philip Rivers. Miami wasn’t sold he could be effective again, and the Saints couldn’t be certain, either. But they took the gamble, which led to the franchise’s best string of seasons, including the 2009 NFL championship.
The Dolphins are still searching for their franchise QB.
Bridgewater also had his career disrupted by injury, a nasty knee issue while Minnesota’s starter that cost him the 2016 season and pretty much relegated him to backup status since. Coach Sean Payton’s offense rarely has been run by anyone but Brees, so it’s hard to predict how Bridgewater might fare. We’re about to find out.
As for Rudolph, he beat out Joshua Dobbs for the backup role to Big Ben, whose durability isn’t quite like that of Brees or Brady — or his fellow first-round draft picks in 2004, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. But it’s impressive: Roethlisberger has started 215 games, and has not missed a significant portion of a regular season since 2015, and before that in 2010, when he still guided Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl.
Rudolph might be the future quarterback for the Steelers, and for the rest of 2019 he is the present QB. With the Steelers (0-2) already in a hole in an AFC North led by Baltimore, losing Roethlisberger is ominous.
It also means that the three key components of their high-octane offense of recent seasons — Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown — aren’t around.
Of the two teams, the Saints appear in far better position than the Steelers. Regardless, this is a major blow in the Big Easy and Steel City.