On Sept. 15, early in the Steelers’ Week 2 game against the Seahawks, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger felt the same pain in his right elbow he had experienced a week prior during Pittsburgh’s blowout loss to New England. After this pain intensified toward the end of the first half against Seattle, Roethlisberger was ruled out for the remainder of the game.
The next day, the 37-year-old QB was ruled out for the entire 2019 season.
The exact nature of Roethlisberger’s elbow injury has not been revealed in the months since, but a season-ending surgery was performed as soon as possible in an effort to allow the six-time Pro Bowler to return for Pittsburgh’s spring practices in 2020.
As for 2019, the Steelers are rolling with Mason Rudolph as their starting QB and Devlin Hodges as their backup while Rothlisberger, signed through the 2021 season, works his way back to full health. Below is everything we know about that recovery timeline.
How long will Ben Roethlisberger be out?
The Steelers wasted no time updating media and fans on Roethlisberger’s status the day after he left the Seattle game with his injured elbow. Coach Mike Tomlin that Monday announced Roethlisberger would be done for the 2019 season.
“Roethlisberger had an MRI on his right elbow Sunday evening, and it was determined by the Steelers’ medical team that surgery will be required,” Tomlin said in a statement. “We expect the surgery will be scheduled for this week. He will be placed on our Reserve/Injured List and is out for the season.”
Roethlisberger and the team have insisted multiple times the QB will be ready to return in 2020, starting with the Steelers’ OTAs in May.
“It’s going to be up to the doctors and how (the elbow) responds,” Roethlisberger recently told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “But I’m very optimistic.”
Said Tomlin: “He fully intends to come back from his injury, and everything we’ve heard, we’re comfortable that’s a strong possibility.”
What is Ben Roethlisberger’s injury?
The specifics of Roethlisberger’s right elbow injury are not clear. But it’s important to note the Steelers QB did not require Tommy John surgery, a procedure that can cost a player a year or more of recovery time.
Roethlisberger’s elbow injury, which had been bothering him for at least a full game prior to the Week 2 Seattle game, became painful enough late in the second quarter against the Seahawks that his discomfort was visible.
Roethlisberger, who was unwilling to discuss the specifics of his injury and subsequent surgery, recently told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette a couple of passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the Seattle game were the final straws.
“I went to the sideline,” Big Ben said, “and Doc (Bradley) said, ‘I can’t let you go back out there. I’ve never seen you act like this. You usually can deal with things. I don’t know what it is, so I can’t afford to let you go back out there.’
“It’s a good thing he didn’t.”
Ben Roethlisberger injury timeline
On Sunday, Sept. 15, Roethlisberger left the Steelers’ Week 2 loss to the Seahawks in the second quarter with pain in his elbow. He was quickly ruled out after Pittsburgh’s medical staff realized he was in too much discomfort to play. Big Ben had aggravated a elbow injury with which, up to that point, he had been able to play through.
Later that day, NFL Media reported Roethlisberger would have an MRI to learn the extent of his elbow injury.
On Sept. 16, following an MRI that had been completed the night before, Tomlin announced Roethlisberger would need season-ending surgery on his elbow.
Rothlisberger, hours after the Steelers’ announcement, released a statement of his own that addressed both the news and rumors about his possible retirement at age 37.
“I’ve been informed that I need season ending surgery on my elbow to continue playing football at the level I expect,” the release said. “This is shocking and heartbreaking for me, to miss this much of a season and feel like I am letting down so many people.
“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 committed three years to me this offseason and I fully intend to honor my contract and reward them with championship level play. I will do all I can to support Mason and the team this season to help win games. I love this game, my teammates, the Steelers organization and fans, and I feel in my heart I have a lot left to give.”
On Sept. 22, ESPN reported Roethlisberger would not need Tommy John surgery, an extensive procedure that could have jeopardized his status for 2020. Instead, according to an ESPN source, “there (was) complete optimism that he will be ready to roll next season. No one (was) concerned that next year is going to be a problem.”
On Sept. 23, Roethlisberger underwent what the team called a “successful” surgery on his right elbow.
“Ben Roethlisberger had successful surgery on his right elbow on Monday in Los Angeles,” team spokesperson Burt Lauten said in a release. “Once Ben returns to Pittsburgh, he immediately will begin working with the Steelers’ medical staff on his rehabilitation, and he is expected to make a full recovery and return to the field for the 2020 NFL season.”
In an interview with The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published Oct. 1, Roethlisberger verified his goal of returning early in 2020 and affirmed his previous retirement denials.
“Absolutely, I plan on playing again,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s my absolute goal. That’s why we did the surgery. The reason we did it and did it so soon is because I want to come back. I don’t have any doubts in my head about that. If you have doubts, then you’ve already lost.
“It’s going to be a long road, but I’m excited for the opportunity to show I can do it. I want to go out on my own terms. No one wants to leave on an injury they can’t control.”
Ben Roethlisberger injury updates
— Oct. 1: Roethlisberger confirms to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he is on track to return 100 percent and in time for the Steelers’ OTAs in May, also reiterating that he does not plan to retire.
— Sept. 24: The Steelers announce a successful surgery on Roethlisberger’s right elbow, performed in Los Angeles the day prior.
— Sept. 22: ESPN reports Roethlisberger does not need Tommy John surgery on his elbow. A source tells the network nobody in Pittsburgh is concerned about Roethlisberger’s return in 2020.
— Sept. 16: An MRI on Roethlisberger’s elbow reveals he needs season-ending surgery. The 37-year-old Steelers QB releases a statement dismissing retirement talk in the wake of his injury. Both he and the team aim for a full recovery and a return to the field in 2020.
— Sept. 15: Roethlisberger leaves the Steelers’ Week 2 loss to the Seahawks in the second quarter due to pain in his elbow. He is promptly ruled out for the game, and the Steelers schedule an MRI on his elbow.