Steelers hanging around behind resurgent Batch
Larry Foote has no illusions about the Pittsburgh Steelers
catching the Baltimore Ravens to win the AFC North even after
Sunday’s emotionally charged 23-20 victory over their bitter
He doesn’t exactly care either.
Sure, homefield in the playoffs – if the Steelers manage to make
it – would be nice. But the 32-year-old doesn’t believe it’s
necessary for Pittsburgh to get where it wants to go.
”We’ve just got to get a ticket,” Foote said. ”The last few
years, the Giants have done it, and Green Bay has done it.”
Heck, so have the Steelers (7-5), who revived their season in a
dramatic fourth quarter in which they scored 10 points to snap
Baltimore’s 15-game home winning streak.
Pittsburgh won three road playoff games on its way to the 2006
Super Bowl, a route it would like have to travel again if the
Ravens can maintain their two-game lead over the Steelers and
Bengals with a month to go in the season.
It’s a cushion Foote doesn’t see evaporating.
”I’m sure they’re probably going to win the division,” Foote
said. ”I can’t see them losing two more games.”
If Foote and the rest of his fellow 30-somethings can continue
to muster the toughness they showed while rallying past the Ravens,
they might not lose two more games between now and next season,
In one of the toughest places in the NFL to play – let alone win
– backup quarterback Charlie Batch passed for 276 yards, directed
two late scoring drives and played like someone ready to turn 28,
Linebacker James Harrison and his aching 34-year-old knees
strip-sacked Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco to set up the
game-tying touchdown and 31-year-old safety Troy Polamalu’s
presence seemed to energize a defense that lacked the kind of
”splash plays” that have been the unit’s calling card under
coordinator Dick LeBeau.
It was a vintage performance few outside the locker room
Not without Ben Roethlisberger, whose sprained right shoulder
relegated him to the role of head cheerleader for a third straight
week. Not with a patchwork offensive line that included a rookie
seventh-round draft pick making his first NFL start. Not with
cornerback Ike Taylor going down on the game’s second play with an
ankle injury so severe he could miss his first game in eight years
when the Steelers host San Diego on Sunday.
Yet the Steelers survived anyway, evening the season series with
the Ravens and postponing Baltimore’s division title plans for at
least a week or two.
”We’re still alive,” safety Ryan Clark said. ”But we need
some more games like this.”
Pittsburgh just might get them.
The Steelers play three of their final four at home starting
with the reeling Chargers (4-8). Roethlisberger is one week closer
to getting back on the field, though the offense appears to be in
good hands until his return after Batch avoided the
three-interception nightmare that cost Pittsburgh so dearly in a
loss to Cleveland a week ago.
Save for a late interception – one the defense quickly atoned
for – and an overthrow of a wide-open Mike Wallace at the end of
the first half, Batch was efficient and poised. He completed 25 of
36 passes, including a touchdown to Heath Miller that tied the game
late and was a perfect 5 of 5 on the game-winning drive.
How good was Batch? His 276 yards were the most he’s thrown in a
game since Nov. 18, 2001 while playing for the Detroit Lions.
To put that in perspective, Roethlisberger was a freshman at
Miami (Ohio) the last time Batch had a better day as a pro.
”I’ve been in the league 15 years,” Batch said. ”I’ve been a
starter in this league, and the one thing you can’t do is dwell on
the past. It’s a long season, and no matter what, all I can ask for
is another opportunity.”
He may get another one next weekend, four days after he turns
38. Batch is the oldest player in a locker room filled with guys
closer to the end of their career than the beginning. That
experience allows him to play with an even keel that guards against
panic when things don’t go as planned. It also allows him to summon
a sense of urgency when necessary.
Batch had both on a day the Steelers provided a reminder that
the core group that’s won two Super Bowl rings in the last eight
years isn’t quite done yet.
”Charlie came in and played the game that we needed him to play
today to win,” Harrison said. ”It’s not surprising to us. It may
be to you, but not to us.”
While Polamalu’s return was quieter, it was no less impactful.
The perennial All-Pro has been dogged by a strained right calf that
has limited him to all of five quarters before Sunday. He eased his
way back in, taking the occasional breather to make sure he didn’t
The result was a defense that limited Flacco to 16 of 34 passing
for 188 yards and sacked him three times on an afternoon that felt
like old times for a bunch of old guys.
”You know (Polamalu) is going to make a big play when it’s
time,” nose tackle Casey Hampton said. ”Just to have him down the
stretch, we know we’re going to need him, because it’s time for us
to make a run.”
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