PITTSBURGH (AP) – Ben Roethlisberger is out for the second time in a month with an injured knee. The Pittsburgh Steelers can only hope they play better without the NFL’s top-rated passer than they did during his last absence.

Roethlisberger had arthroscopic surgery Thursday to remove a damaged piece of cartilage from his right knee and will miss Sunday’s game at Green Bay and, possibly, the Nov. 13 game against Cleveland. Coach Bill Cowher said the normal recovery time is 10-to-14 days, and the quarterback’s status will be evaluated next week.

Cowher said Roethlisberger wanted to keep playing, but the Steelers (5-2) – only a half-game out of the AFC North lead – didn’t want to risk losing him for 4-to-6 weeks if the injury worsened and developed into a bone bruise. The team then decided to have the operation done immediately, and the procedure took only 15 minutes.

“He wants to play through everything,” Cowher said. “But I feel good that we did what we did and took a proactive approach to it.”

Roethlisberger initially hurt the knee during the season opener Sept. 11 against Tennessee, but didn’t miss any playing time. Later, he hyperextended his left knee during the final drive of a 24-22 comeback victory in San Diego on Oct. 10, forcing him to sit out a 23-17 overtime loss to Jacksonville in which backup Tommy Maddox had four turnovers – including a game-winning interception return touchdown.

Charlie Batch, a former Lions starter who has thrown only eight passes in four seasons, has since moved ahead of Maddox on the depth chart and will start Sunday. Batch hasn’t thrown a pass since the exhibition season and has no extensive playing time since 2001 with Detroit, though he was the Lions’ primary starter from 1998-2001.

“You try to manage the game and do exactly what you would do as if Ben was in there,” Batch said. “The offense isn’t going to change at all, we’re going to do what we do and that’s run the ball.”

Still, the Steelers might be less confident about winning at Green Bay (1-6) than they would have been with Roethlisberger. Wide receiver Hines Ward talked about going to Lambeau Field and “stealing a win,” not the normal tone for winning team playing a losing team.

While Batch said the Steelers want to run the ball Sunday the way they did in rushing for 221 yards in a 27-13 win at Cincinnati on Oct. 23 in which Roethlisberger threw only 14 passes, they also expect to be without running back Jerome Bettis (quadriceps).

Bettis was downgraded from questionable to doubtful, which means Duce Staley – who hasn’t carried since the AFC championship game in January – will back up starter Willie Parker. Staley, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher with the Eagles, missed much of the second half of last season with a sore hamstring, then needed knee surgery after only one day of training camp. He has played in only four games since midseason a year ago.

“But I don’t think the game plan will change,” Staley said.

This is Roethlisberger’s third knee injury in seven weeks, and both knees have been hurt, but his teammates don’t detect any fragility in a quarterback who is 18-1 as a regular season starter.

Roethlisberger impressed them by shaking off an injury that occurred during the first quarter Monday to lead two long touchdown drives and a late drive that resulted in Jeff Reed’s game-winning 37-yard field goal in a 20-19 victory over Baltimore. Roethlisberger, last season’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, is 79 of 130 for 1,111 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions while going 5-1 this season and his 112.4 passer rating is easily the best in the league.

“He’s not one of those guys that whines: I’m hurt. I can’t do this. I want a steak. Don’t nobody touch me. Leave me alone. Put me in a bubble,”‘ right guard Kendall Simmons said. “There are guys who want to be in a bubble. They’re like glass. You can’t touch them. They don’t have no dog in them. And he does. He’s definitely got plenty of dog in him, and that’s what I like about him.”

Bettis once had the same operation Roethlisberger had, to clean up a torn meniscus – the shock-absorbing cartilage in the knee. Bettis said the recovery time is not long compared to many knee injuries.

“But I had mine during the preseason and this is during the season, so it’s a little bit different,” he said. “It’s just a matter of pain tolerance.”

AP-ES-11-03-05 1601EST

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