Lord Byron

Ben Roethlisberger stood on the sidelines Tuesday and watched Byron Leftwich run the offense in practice, but don't expect to see the same scenario unfold January 3 ... even though the Pittsburgh Steelers know Leftwich can handle the job.

PITTSBURGH – The offensive linemen like him because they know where he's going to be in the pocket.

The receivers like him because he throws the ball where it's supposed to be, when it's supposed to be there.

And the coach likes him because he's won games when he's had to.

"Byron has been a blessing for us, he really has," Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said of backup quarterback Byron Leftwich.

"That's one of the things you do think about when you look around and see that guy who has franchise quarterback experience, playoff starting quarterback experience. He's been the guy. Those shoes are comfortable to him. He's one of the guys when things happen and you look around and you're going to send him into the game, he doesn't have that faraway look. He's been there and done that.

"I think this team has been very comfortable with him when he gets called upon. It's been a tremendous blessing to have him on this football team. Aside from what he does inside the white lines when he's called upon, he's very good as a teammate. He's very good at practice. He's very good in the locker room."

Leftwich has been called upon twice this season with games on the line. The first time he was back home in Washington, D.C. and the Steelers were leading the Redskins, 10-6, at halftime. Leftwich stepped in and helped outscore the Redskins in the second half, 14-0. He completed 7-of-10 for 129 yards and a touchdown on a day when Ben Roethlisberger completed only 5-of-17 for 50 yards and an interception.

Roethlisberger got hurt again this past Sunday and Leftwich entered the game late in the first half. The Steelers led the Browns 7-0 at the time, and the final score was 31-0. Leftwich completed 7-of-12 for 80 yards and scored on an 8-yard run.

Roethlisberger suffered a concussion against the Browns, and the bye week affords him ample opportunity for a full recovery. But there are advantages to using Leftwich.

"When you're pass-blocking, it's nice to know that your quarterback is going to be right where you expect him to be in the pocket," said left tackle Max Starks.

In 36 pass attempts this season, Leftwich has taken only three sacks, or one every 12 pass attempts. Roethlisberger has gone down once every 10.2 pass attempts.

"But on the other side," Starks said, "it's nice to have a mobile quarterback like Ben in there when the other team's blitzing up the middle."

But Leftwich has better stats across the board compared to Roethlisberger: 8.42 to 7.04 yards per attempt; 5.6 to 3.6 touchdown pass percentage; 0.0 to 3.2 interception percentage; and 104.3 to 80.1 passer rating.

"He's been a starter in this league for five years, so he knows what it takes," said wide receiver Santonio Holmes.

Holmes was asked what receivers like about Leftwich, and he began his answer in the form of a comparison to Roethlisberger.

"He gets the ball there a lot – real quick," Holmes said. "That's something that we have to adjust to. Playing with Ben for three years, it's very difficult to go from knowing how he throws the ball to pretty much always catching the fastball every time it comes out of Byron's hand."

The ball does come out of Leftwich's hand at a high rate of speed. And he can throw it further than Roethlisberger, so there are pluses in Leftwich's favor at just about every turn. Those pluses could move to the front of Tomlin's mind if Roethlisberger is slow to recover from his concussion, but those close to Roethlisberger have confidence he'll return and play well.

"I do," said defensive end Brett Keisel. "The guy's a winner. He's going to come in and play good ball. I firmly believe that."

If not, there's certainly an alternative.

NOTES – Ryan Clark said his shoulder separation is worse than his earlier separation this season, but he lifted weights Monday and expects to play in the January 3 (4:45 p.m.) playoff game. … Willie Parker was asked if his "burst" is back. The running back who had his first 100-yard game (116) in six weeks said "somewhat." … The Steelers will practice today and Thursday before calling it a week.


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