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Steelers face 0-8 Lions without Roethlisberger, who is on the COVID list

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Pittsburgh.
Keith Srakocic
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Pittsburgh.

Ben Roethlisberger's absence from Sunday's game against Detroit could be a tonic for what ails the winless Lions.

The Steelers announced Saturday that Roethlisberger had been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and would miss the game. Mason Rudolph is expected to start at quarterback.

The Steelers (5-3) have won four straight to recover from a 1-3 start and find themselves in the mix in the unpredictable AFC North. That doesn't mean their longtime quarterback, who spoke earlier in the week thinks his team is any good. Or at least good enough to meet the standard he has played a pivotal part in helping set during his 18 years on the job.

“We’ve got a winning record, but if you ask most of the guys, I think, in this building would tell you we’ve got a long way to go,” Roethlisberger said.

He's not lying. The Steelers hardly looked dominant during last week's 29-27 escape against Chicago, a game in which a 10-point lead with 12 minutes to go evaporated, forcing Roethlisberger to orchestrate the 38th fourth-quarter comeback of his career.

The ease with which Pittsburgh went 52 yards in 76 seconds to set up Chris Boswell's winning field goal should give an offense featuring four rookies a boost. Yet the Steelers would also like to stop having things get so tight in the end. All four victories during their surge have come by eight points or less.

“Sometimes in college, you’re up by 21 (and) it’s hard to catch up a lot,” Roethlisberger said. “In this league, that’s not always the case. Anytime you win a game, it’s great, and if you can pull little lessons from it, that’s even better.”

The lessons have been piling for Detroit (0-8). Close games. Blowouts. The Lions have found a variety of ways to lose during the first two months of rookie head coach Dan Campbell's tenure. Following a week off, the Lions have to travel to a place where the franchise hasn't won since 1955.

“Look, we’ve got our hands full, but it’s why you play the game," Campbell said. “We’re not going out there to just get punched in the face either, but we have to know what we’re getting ready to walk into, which I think we’re all very aware of.”

While the game looked like a breather — comparatively speaking — to the minefield that awaits the Steelers over the second half of the season, they're well aware they haven't played well enough to overlook anyone. And now they are without their starting quarterback.

“We do understand that they’re an 0-8 football team that’s faced a lot of adversity, but this is the National Football League,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “There are no FCS games, there are no Group of Five games, there are no homecomings. Each and every week, you’re up against it.”