Ben Roethlisberger's vision has cleared. The playoff hopes for his team, however, are far murkier.
The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback understands whatever wiggle room the Steelers had vanished in a maddening loss in Seattle last weekend, when he threw for 456 yards before leaving in the fourth quarter with a concussion. Roethlisberger's symptoms abated quickly though not before continuing a trend. Heading into the first weekend of December, Roethlisberger has started and finished just three of Pittsburgh's 11 games.
The Steelers (6-5) have somehow remained in the thick a muddled postseason race, though how much longer they can stick around could depend on if they can handle the resilient Colts (6-5) on Sunday night. Pittsburgh is just 3-4 against AFC opponents this season with playoff locks Cincinnati and Denver still on the schedule. A loss to Indianapolis and Pittsburgh could have to win out to play deep into January, a rugged prospect for a group that's looked equal parts explosive and erratic for much of the fall.
"We realize the significance of this opportunity this weekend," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
So do the Colts, who are tied with Houston for the lead in the AFC North even with star quarterback Andrew Luck limited to seven games because of various injuries. Enter Matt Hasselbeck, who is unbeaten (4-0) while filling in. Heady territory for a 40-year-old nearly a decade removed from his prime.
"I think probably people would have thought it unlikely, myself included," Hasselbeck said. "I have to work hard and prove I'm still able to do things and play well, play a young man's game. I've worked hard at those things."
Namely avoiding mistakes and big hits. Hasselbeck's quarterback rating (94.4) is nearly 20 points better than Luck thanks to the understanding that there's no need to be the hero. Hasselbeck gets rid of the ball quickly rather than hang onto it in hopes of making a play and risk getting drilled. Those days are long gone.
"I backed up Brett Favre in Green Bay and we were running the same offense, but he was running it differently," Hasselbeck said. "He just had a laser of an arm and he was stiff arming guys. I'm probably a little more by the book."
One that could provide a compelling new chapter if Hasselbeck can become the first 40-something ever to win five consecutive starts, something Favre didn't even manage in the twilight of his career.
"I don't think there's anything Matt hasn't seen from a defensive perspective and standpoint," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "You see something new week in and week out from your opponent, he's able to sniff some things out, figure things out and get us in the right play and protection."