Batch rescues the Steelers' season
NFL:Charlie Batch hugged each teammate he encountered long and hard as the Pittsburgh Steelers streamed off the field, as if he knew this was his valedictory. Since quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sustained a shoulder injury and broken ribs three weeks ago and his backup, Byron Leftwich, broke his ribs, the Steelers' play-off hopes have hung on Batch's aging arm.
A team that early in November had seemed to be finding its play-off form after a victory over the Giants had been watching its annual appointment with the postseason slip away in a flurry of turnovers, missed passes and stalled offence. But on Sunday, the Steelers may have rescued their season with a 23-20 last-second victory over the Baltimore Ravens, their fiercest rival.
Only last week, the former receiver Hines Ward wondered whom the Steelers could rely on as a leader in the offensive huddle when adversity struck. The answer, it turned out, was Batch, who threw three interceptions last week as the Steelers turned the ball over eight times in a loss to the Cleveland Browns.
"I think every game I got out there, I look at it that way," Batch said of whether he played with greater urgency because this might be his last game. "I wanted this opportunity because I played poorly last week, and I wanted the opportunity to come out there and prove it and lead this team. I've been in the league 15 years. I've been a starter in this league, and the one thing you can't do is dwell on the past."
The victory kept the Steelers (7-5) two games behind the Ravens (9-3) in the AFC North. The loss prevented the Ravens from clinching a play-off berth, and a victory by the Bengals (7-5) over the Chargers kept the Steelers and the Bengals well situated in the AFC wild-card race.
The Colts, last-second victors over the Lions, are 8-4 and seem virtually assured of seizing one of the wild cards. That leaves the Bengals and the Steelers to fight it out over the final month of the season for the other, with a December 23rd game between them in Pittsburgh looming.
In the two previous games that Roethlisberger did not start, both losses and one of them against the Ravens in Pittsburgh two weeks ago, the Steelers scored 10 and 14 points. The Ravens had won 12 consecutive division games and 23 of their last 24 at home. They also owned a lopsided advantage at home, averaging 36.8 points, compared with 16.5 on the road.
But the version of the Steelers that appeared in Baltimore looked much more like a vintage Steelers team. The defence entered the game having allowed the fewest yards by opposing offenses in the league, and the fifth fewest points (an average of 19.1). That left it to the offense, of which Batch - in what could have been his last start, if Roethlisberger returns as expected next week - took control.