FOXBOROUGH – Ben Roethlisberger didn’t practice Wednesday as he recovers from a rib injury sustained Sunday, but it’s not uncommon for the Steelers quarterback to get a veteran’s day off mid-week. The Patriots have studied both Roethlisberger and backup quarterback Josh Dobbs as they get ready for a trip to Pittsburgh this weekend, but Bill Belichick acknowledged Wednesday that the starter is a special challenge.
“There’s only one Ben Roethlisberger,” Belichick said.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Roethlisberger, who has several rib contusions, should be able to play Sunday. The Patriots have still done their due diligence on Dobbs, who has good athleticism and played about a third of the game in the Steelers’ loss to Oakland on Sunday when Roethlisberger was getting medical attention. Dobbs was 4-for-9 passing for 24 yards and an interception to go with 15 yards rushing on two carries. Not a prolific performance, but Belichick seemed to have positive takeaways from the performance.
“He’s a very athletic quarterback in the open game. For the, I don’t know, whatever it was, 20 plays or so that he was in there, ran some bootlegs, had him on the move. He had like a third and 7, had a little seam in the pocket and ran for about a dozen yards or so for a first down,” Belichick said. “So, he’s quick, he’s very athletic, he’s got a good arm. I thought he threw the ball well in college, was a very productive player in college in the passing game, so I don’t think he’s just a running quarterback by any means.”
Either quarterback will have a pair of wide receivers Belichick had nothing but praise for. He called Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster “elite, elite,” at one point during a laudatory description of their many talents.
“You’re not going to get anybody better than these two guys,” Belichick said.
“Even when Rob’s covered, he’s open.”
Those were the words of Belichick in the moments following Rob Gronkowski’s nine-catch, 168-yard performance in the AFC East-clinching 27-24 win over the Steelers last December in Pittsburgh.
Gronkowski was particularly beastly on the Patriots’ winning drive, collecting three passes for 69 yards.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday he remembers the performance well and he will remind his players about it before the teams meet this Sunday in Pittsburgh.
“I think that goes without saying, obviously,” Tomlin said. “Those guys that were a part of that know that, those that weren’t could care less. We better be concerned about preparing ourselves to minimize his impact and do what it is we need to do to be successful against him this time around.’’
Gronkowski is coming off his best performance of the season (8 catches, 107 yards in Miami) and Tomlin isn’t buying into the narrative that the perennial Pro Bowl tight end has lost a step as he deals with ankle and back injuries.
“He’s a dangerous man. He’s Gronk,’’ said Tomlin. “He’s a vertical matchup, he’s a big-time playmaker, he’s good with the ball in his hands after the catch, he’s a big-time competitor. It is a serious job to work to minimize his impact on the game.’’
The Patriots will not play internationally next season.
The NFL announced the five “home” teams that will play in London and Mexico City next year, and none of them are on New England’s 2019 schedule. Put away those passports, Patriots fans.
The Jaguars, Chargers, Rams, Raiders, and Buccaneers will host games across the pond or below the border.
Every member of the Patriots 53-man roster was a full participant in practice Wednesday.
Tight end Dwayne Allen (knee) and cornerback Stephon Gilmore (ankle) remain on the injury report, but were full participants, which means they were able to take contact. Gilmore played Sunday in Miami but Allen was out.
The Steelers are not quite so healthy. Roethlisberger, safety Sean Davis (knee), running back James Conner (ankle), center Maurkice Pouncey (coaches decision) and OT Marcus Gilbert (knee) did not participate. Linebacker Anthony Chickillo (ankle) was limited.
If Connor can’t play, the Steelers will rely on Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley. Belichick, who has been quick to credit the Steelers offensive line as one that can support a strong running game no matter the ball carrier, said the versatile Samuels can fill Connor’s role.
“He’s in there on every down,” Belichick said. “Yep, he’s been an every-down player for them.
Samuels is averaging 2.6 yards per attempt on 59 carries this season to go with 14 catches on 16 targets for 118 passing yards and two touchdowns . . . The Steelers have lost three games in a row, but Belichick scoffed at the notion they might be discouraged or lack confidence Sunday. “Competitive people compete,” the Patriots coach said.