Two playoff contenders got the news every team dreads on Monday: a serious injury that will keep their starting quarterback out.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the news was worse. Ben Roethlisberger will need surgery on his elbow, Coach Mike Tomlin said in a statement. He is out for the season.
Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints will be out about six weeks recovering from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his throwing hand, the NFL Network and other news outlets reported.
Roethlisberger, 37, has been synonymous with the Steelers nearly the entire century, starting at least 11 games every season since his rookie year of 2004. He has missed significant time only twice in his career. He served a four-game suspension for violating the N.F.L.’s personal conduct policy in 2010 after he was accused of sexual assault. The Georgia police ultimately decided not to charge him in the case. He also sat out four games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in 2015. He led the team to Super Bowl victories after the 2005 and 2008 regular seasons.
He did not return for the second half against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday after hurting his elbow. The team went on to lose, 28-26.
The injury comes at a bad time for the Steelers, who are off to a rare 0-2 start. They will now have to try to turn that around behind Mason Rudolph, a third-round pick out of Oklahoma State a year ago. He didn’t get into any games last season as the third-stringer, but was promoted to second string this year, and fared well in his unexpected debut, going 12 for 19 for 112 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
“You have to be prepared for those situations whenever your number is called,” Rudolph told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I thought I was ready. I had a really good feel for our game plan and what we worked on all week.”
Like Roethlisberger, Brees has been incredibly durable over a long and productive career. Every year for the past 13, he started 15 or 16 games for the Saints. That time included the Saints’ only Super Bowl win, after the 2009 season.
In the first quarter of a 27-9 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, as he threw a pass, Brees’s hand made contact with the hand of defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
After the game, Brees said he did not know the extent of his injury, but acknowledged: “It’s very difficult. It’s very difficult not to be playing. I’m not used to that. I don’t want to get used to that.
“You hit your hands on stuff all the time, right? On helmets and different things. You might get jammed thumbs, jammed fingers and different things where it swells up and what have you. This felt like something a bit more significant and prevented me from gripping the ball.”
Donald said: “I just tried to get the ball. I felt myself hit his hand as he released it.”
Brees, 40, had defied his age this season, leading the Saints to a 30-28 win over the Houston Texans while passing for 370 yards. He completed three of five passes before his injury on Sunday.
Now the Saints will turn to Teddy Bridgewater, who started one game last season. He was last a regular starter with the Minnesota Vikings in 2015, when he made the Pro Bowl. But he missed 2016 with a serious leg injury and never got his job back. Bridgewater was 17 for 30 for 165 yards subbing for Brees on Sunday. He had no touchdowns or interceptions.
Another option for the Saints is Taysom Hill, a quarterback from Brigham Young who is nominally the third-stringer but who has been playing a variety of roles for the team, including rushing and catching passes. Hill completed three of seven pass attempts for the team in 2018.
The Saints’ next six games are a mixed bag. Away games at Seattle next week, and at Jacksonville and Chicago in October could all be tricky, as could a home game against the Cowboys. Despite Brees’s absence, the Saints will hope for wins in home games against the Buccaneers and Cardinals.