Man, Charlie friggin’ Batch. All we heard during the week was he’s too old, he can’t play, he’s washed up, how bad can Brian Hoyer be? And all Charlie friggin’ Batch did yesterday was go out and lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens. If this is indeed Chaz’s swan song, what better way to go out than with a victory over your hated rivals in what will forever be remembered as “the Charlie Batch game.”
The first half was an almost carbon copy of last week’s debacle in Cleveland. The defense completely stifled Joe Flacco and company, even coming away with a Ryan Clark interception early in the 2nd quarter. The Steelers squandered that by turning it right back over on a poorly designed trick play where Antonio Brown threw up a duck which was easily picked off. Ike Taylor left with a leg injury so Flacco kept going after his replacement Cortez Allen. Allen and Curtis Brown acquitted themselves well all day but had their lone hiccup on the ensuing drive, allowing Anquan Boldin to get free for a 28 yard TD.
Down 13-3 with five minutes in the half, the Steelers offense finally sprang to life. Chris Rainey started things with a huge 40 yard kickoff return to begin at mid-field. Batch converted two long first downs with passes to Heath Miller. Then the Ratbirds had a monumental mix-up in the secondary, some how letting Mike Wallace run to the end zone all by himself. There literally wasn’t a purple jersey within ten yards. Batch had plenty of time to make the 20 yard throw for an easy six but instead sailed the ball over Wallace’s head and into the waiting parabola of a sound tech squatting five yards behind the goal post.
At that point, Steeler Nation let out a collective groan. Anybody who says they didn’t start thinking this was going to be another one of those games is lying. You only get so many gifts in a big game like this and to not take advantage of them is lethal.
Call it heart, call it veteran leadership, call it what you will but instead of being demoralized, the Steelers started the second half on fire. The suddenly competent offense that closed out the first half opened the second with an excellent TD drive highlighted by a 43 yard catch-and-run by Heath. The capper was a brilliant 16 yard TD run by Jonathan Dwyer, who was stopped at the line but bounced it outside and picked up a block from Batch on his way to the end zone.
Suddenly, a 10 point deficit was a tie game.
The Ravens continued to do nothing on offense as Flacco’s entire arsenal consisted of short dump offs to his running backs. Other than the one deep pass (28 yards being “deep”) to Boldin, he misfired on pretty much every throw of 10+ yards. I’ve said it before and I’ll say again, Dick LeBeau has figured out the secret to containing Captain Checkdown is to make quick tackles on his devastating variety of screens and dump-offs and force (dare) him to beat you down the field.
The sizzling Steelers offense got the ball back and Batch immediately hit Emmanuel Sanders streaking down the middle of the field for 21 yards which could’ve been a lot more, possibly even a touchdown. Except Sanders lost control of the ball trying to switch hands and a huge gain turned into yet another Steelers miscue. The Ravens took the gift back for a TD as the defense lost contain on Ray Rice and he burned them for a 34 yard TD.
Again, I defy anybody to say they didn’t have visions of Cleveland running through their head. It’s hard enough to win in the NFL when you play a good team. It’s even harder when you play a good team with your back-up quarterback. It’s damn near impossible to win when you’re playing a good team with your back-up and you continue to make mistake after mistake.
And the mistakes kept on coming as instead of lifting Batch, his teammates seemed hellbent on sabotaging him. Charlie hit AB for 34 yards and it looked like the Steelers would answer the Baltimore score. Two plays netted only 6 yards. On third down, Batch delivered a perfect throw to Sanders only for him to drop it. And in true Sweed-like fashion, he immediately fell to the carpet feigning injury, as if some crippling ailment were to blame for utter ineptness.
Not that Charlie was totally blameless on the miscue front. Early in the 4th quarter Dwyer and Isaac Redman began chewing up huge chunks on the ground. Batch had been good since the Wallace misfire but on first down from the Baltimore 20, he made a poor thrown into double coverage and ended up being picked by Ed Reed.
The Steelers needed one more big play from the defense. And James Harrison delivered. A perfectly timed strip-sack got the ball right back and set the offense up deep in Raven territory. Sanders finally held on to a pass, making a nice 17 yard catch over the middle to inch the team closer to evening the score. Two plays later, Batch rolled out and found Heath, who made a fantastic diving lunge at the pylon to tie the game.
Once again, the defense held so Batch had five minutes to be a hero. And he delivered, leading the team on an epic 12 play 51 yard drive. Mike Wallace was the man, catching three passes for 15, 7 and 10 yard gains despite at one point having to leave after being shaken up. Batch took two heavy shots from Ravens pass rushers, the second of which finally drew a flag for unnecessary roughness. The mix of pass and run combined with idiot coach John Harbaugh having blown through his time outs early in the half, allowed the Steelers to milk the clock down to the end.
With the game on the line, out came Stonecold Shaun Suisham to attempt a 42 yarder. His aim was true. When the ball sailed through the uprights, an emotional scene played out on the sideline as Charlie Batch embraced long time protege Ben Roethlisberger. I happened to catch the game a Steeler bar and I think there were a few people blinking back tears there as well.
Me? I just had, uh, some dust in my eye.