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Roethlisberger plans to play despite sore thumb

PITTSBURGH -- Another week, another injury for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger said Thursday his right thumb injury "is pretty painful," but he is hopeful it won't severely affect his throwing Sunday in a key AFC North game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The injury, not disclosed until Wednesday, follows injuries to
both knees that kept Roethlisberger out of four games. Coach Bill
Cowher also said Roethlisberger "tweaked" his ankle during a 26-7
loss to Indianapolis on Monday night, but that injury was not
listed on the team's first injury report of the week.

That report, issued late Wednesday afternoon, was the first
disclosure of any thumb injury. Neither Roethlisberger nor Cowher
mentioned it following the Colts' game.

Roethlisberger said the injury is painful enough that trainers
designed a protective device so he can throw in practice Thursday
and Friday.

"It's a little sore, but we're going to try and see if we can
get by with it," said Roethlisberger, who is listed as probable.
"A couple of contraptions hopefully will help it."

Asked how and when the injury occurred, Roethlisberger said, "I
can't go into the extent of the injury, but it is pretty painful
and it's not something that's fun to have."

Cowher downplayed the injury after practice Thursday.

"Everything's fine. There's no need to go into detail," Cowher
said. "He's ready to play Sunday."

Roethlisberger may have played in both Steelers playoff games
last season with an injured thumb, although neither he nor the team
confirmed it. However, TV cameras caught Roethlisberger clutching his thumb in visible pain, during a playoff game against the Jets
in which he threw two interceptions.

Asked afterward about a thumb injury, Roethlisberger said, "I'm
not going to make excuses."

Neither Roethlisberger nor the Steelers have said whether this
latest injury is a reoccurrence of any problem Roethlisberger had
last season, or is a new injury.

Roethlisberger, who is 18-2 as an NFL regular season starter,
returned from a three-week layoff after knee surgery to go 17 of 26
for 133 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions against the
Colts, but could not lead any scoring drives in the second half.

Roethlisberger, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year last
season, had hoped to play the week before -- a 16-13 overtime loss
in Baltimore -- but was not ready.

"You want to come back and bounce back as fast as you can and
get back out there, and get into that comfort level that you had
before the injury," he said. "But it took a little bit of time.
It probably wasn't as fast as I wanted it to come back, and
obviously it's tough going against that good of a defense."

Roethlisberger isn't the Steelers' only injury worry this week.

Left tackle Marvel Smith (ankle) is out, which means rookie Trai Essex will be responsible for protecting Roethlisberger's blind
side as the left tackle. Essex was held out of the Steelers' first
nine games before playing extensively the last two games.

Another rookie, Chris Kemoeatu, is working at both guard
positions during practice despite not being activated for any game
to date. Cowher said this week he is unhappy with the offensive
line's play.

"It's tough when you've got so many guys dinged up,"
Roethlisberger said. "We have to find a way to rebound and bounce
back. That's one thing this team can do, they can rebound after a
tough loss. Hopefully, we'll come out and be very good this week."

The Steelers (7-4) have lost two in a row, but could regain a
tie for the division lead and would own the tiebreaker if they
beat the Bengals (8-3) for the ninth time in their last 11 games.
The Bengals could open a two-game lead, with four games to play, by
winning in Heinz Field.