Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin expects Ben Roethlisberger back under center Sunday against Cincinnati.
Roethlisberger isn't so sure just yet.
The two-time Super Bowl winner is playing it safe in his return after missing four games with a sprained knee and a bruised leg, saying Wednesday he's "not going to get his hopes up" about playing Sunday.
"I think it was more just a pain and inflammation setback," Roethlisberger said. "I don't think it was an injury-type of a setback. I just put an extra, heavy load on it and paid for it that night with achiness and inflammation."
That's fine by Roethlisberger, who practiced in a limited capacity for three days last week and was listed as questionable leading into the game at Kansas City. He plans to wear a brace on the injured left knee for the first time in his career Sunday. Roethlisberger has adjusted to the feel by wearing the brace to work out, but he doesn't anticipate any in-game mobility limitations because of the injury.
"I think if there's a restriction, I shouldn't be out there," Roethlisberger said. "You can't afford to go out there if you're restricted in any way. That's why I don't want to think about the injury, what I've had, what I'm wearing and things like that. I just want to go out there and play football."
Roethlisberger reported no pain Wednesday morning, but still wants to see how his knee feels after a couple days of practice prior to Sunday's game.
"That's why I said that we have to take this one day at a time," Roethlisberger said. "It's why I'm not getting my hopes up for Sunday. I'm going to get my hopes up for today, go out and see how it goes."
Roethlisberger was initially disappointed with the setback last week, but doctors reassured the Steelers' franchise quarterback didn't cause further damage.
"It's simple overuse," Roethlisberger said. "The inflammation, the swelling, that's naturally going to happen. Once I got over the initial shock of worrying that something more happened, I was fine."
Roethlisberger enjoyed a career year in 2014, helping the Steelers finish as the No. 2-ranked offense.
They picked up where they left off this year as the Steelers averaged 32 points and more than 450 yards per game before Roethlisberger went down.
Roethlisberger is 16-6 in his career against the Bengals. His 427 completions and 5,051 yards passing are the most by anyone against Cincinnati. The Steelers swept the season series last season and have won three straight and eight of 10 against the Bengals.
A victory would put Cincinnati up by four games in the loss column over its closest pursuer heading into the season's midpoint, an almost insurmountable lead. And the Bengals realize it.
"Yeah, you've got to," cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. "Anything that will help us out, you've got to look at those options. Getting a win this week is very big for us."
There's another factor in play: Cincinnati has lost four of its past five games at Heinz Field.
"You have to embrace it," Kirkpatrick said. "Their fans have a lot of hate for the Cincinnati Bengals. It's nothing personal. But if that don't wake you up, you're on the wrong team."