Roethlisberger skips practice, but expects to face Panthers

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sat out practice on Tuesday to give his broken left index finger a rest but he is expected to play on Thursday night when Carolina visits Heinz Field.

Roethlisberger said the finger was "fine" after he threw the ball 47 times in last Sunday's victory over Baltimore.

He did leave the game briefly in the third quarter after getting the wind knocked out of him, but he returned after missing just one snap.

The 36-year-old is on pace to top 5,000 yards passing for the first time in his career. He came close in 2014 when he tied Drew Brees for the league lead with 4,952. Roethlisberger said reaching the 5,000-yard plateau "is still a pretty big deal" but he is keeping his focus on the team.

The Steelers (5-2-1) have ripped off four straight wins to climb into first in the AFC North. The short week means they won't have much time to prepare for the surging Panthers (6-2), which might not be a bad thing. Roethlisberger expects to rely a little more heavily on the no-huddle offense, a setup in which he thrives.

"We've been doing it for a while," Roethlisberger said. "We know it. We know it pretty well. We did it really well in Baltimore, really well, and just being able to pick up the pace and the tempo."

The Steelers often turn to the no-huddle in an effort to snap them out of a funk early in games, but Roethlisberger isn't using it as a method of trying to get the ball downfield.

While he's on track to set a career high in yards, his production has dipped a bit during Pittsburgh's winning streak. He's gone over 300 yards just once in Pittsburgh's past five games after going over 330 yards in each of the first three weeks.

An improved defense has helped. Roethlisberger lit up scoreboards early because the Steelers were trying to keep up with opponents who had little trouble getting to the end zone.

That's not happening much anymore. Now that Roethlisberger isn't tasked with trying to play catch up, the Steelers have taken a more balanced approach.

Second-year running back James Conner is second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage and Roethlisberger is content to keep throwing the ball underneath to move the chains and keep Pittsburgh's defense off the field. And just like that, Pittsburgh's sluggish 1-2-1 start has become a distant memory.

"There was no panic in this room early in the season," Roethlisberger said. "That's why we got a good chuckle out of (the media) panicking and the outside world panicking, but for us it was just a matter of playing the next week."

NOTES: Right tackle Marcus Gilbert (knee) did not practice and is unlikely to play, meaning Matt Feiler will make his third straight start. ... NT Daniel McCullers (ankle) also did not practice. ... WR Antonio Brown (coach's decision) and WR Ryan Switzer (ankle) were limited. ... WR James Washington (knee) was a full participant.

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