PITTSBURGH - Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward apologized Tuesday for openly questioning Ben Roethlisberger's toughness, saying he spoke emotionally without knowing a team doctor recommended the quarterback not play Sunday because of a concussion.
Ward talked Monday with Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin in separate conversations, expressing regret for saying during a pre-game NBC-TV interview that the locker-room was split 50-50 whether the quarterback should play in Baltimore.
"I have apologized to Ben," Ward wrote in a posting on his Facebook page. "Ben and I are cool and always will be. We will not let this come between us, our talk was very productive."
Ward chose to make his comments public because he doesn't plan to speak further about the subject.
"I would never question a man's toughness playing in a STEELER unif(orm)," Ward wrote. "I didn't mean to cause such a stir. My frustration was based on the fact that this was a big game for us to stay in the playoff picture and having Ben out there gave us our best opp(ortunity) to win. I was frustrated because there was no indication of Ben not being able to play because he practiced a normal routine."
Ward and his teammates didn't learn until Saturday that Roethlisberger wouldn't play. Because Roethlisberger practised as the starter all week, No. 3 quarterback Dennis Dixon was forced to make his first NFL start with little preparation during the 20-17 overtime loss.
"Now as a veteran guy on this team, you can see how upset that made a lot of us considering we were going down into the lions dens in Baltimore without our fearless leader," Ward wrote.
Dixon threw for a touchdown and ran for another, but was only 4 of 16 for 58 yards after halftime, and his interception led to Baltimore's winning field goal.
During the interview, Ward said some players masked concussions to play, and he estimated half of the Steelers have had at least one concussion. However, he didn't know that Roethlisberger was unhappy with the decision benching him - made by Tomlin upon the recommendation of neurologist Joseph Maroon - or that the quarterback lobbied the coach to change his mind.
"I know Ben wanted to play this game but the docs told him he's down, and with that we trust our docs with their decisions," Ward wrote. "We would never jeopardize anyone's health for a game of football. Life is way to(o) precious. One thing about Ben, he is a WINNER. We just wanted this game so badly."
Tomlin didn't order Ward to talk to Roethlisberger, saying, "I trusted both of those men would be professionals and quell whatever potential problems and issues that may have occurred. ... He (Ward) assured me this football team will be ready to prepare for and ultimately play Oakland (on Sunday)."
Despite the stir caused by Ward's comments or the Steelers' three-game losing streak, Tomlin doesn't believe he has a divided team.
"I'm not overly concerned about discontent in the locker-room," Tomlin said Tuesday. "Any time you get 53 guys in a locker-room, there are going to be disagreements, misunderstandings and miscommunication.
"I think it's highlighted by losing. It becomes a story at times in the midst of losing. I tend to focus on the real root of our evils, and that's searching for and ultimately finding a winning formula, playing winning football. A win would solve a lot of issues."
While the Steelers (6-5) are slumping, Tomlin promised after the game that his team would "unleash hell" in December - a remark he blamed on being fired up by watching the movie "Gladiator" before the game.
The Steelers play two games in five days starting Sunday against a pair of the NFL's worst teams, the Raiders (3-8) and Browns (1-10), and three of their final five opponents own losing records.
"The big thing for us is that we don't carry the baggage of recent weeks," Tomlin said. "We have to be a mentally tough group, shake off some recent failures and ultimately play winning football. We've got a veteran group that has faced a lot of adversity, individually and collectively, and I would expect they are capable of doing that. .. That's why I spoke with the optimism that I spoke with after the game."