New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Byron Leftwich scrambled to his right, faked out a defender along the sideline and dashed across the goal line.
Then he tripped over his own feet, rather clumsily, before his teammates mobbed him.
It was as if Leftwich found himself in unfamiliar territory, so he was unsure of his footing. He was indeed in a relatively foreign land, this being his first foray into the end zone in four years.
But despite the superb beginning to the game, that awkward moment where Leftwich stumbled after scoring on a 31-yard ramble was harbinger of things to come.
He didn’t look like he belonged out there.
Because he didn’t belong out there.
Certainly not at the end of the game.
Following Leftwich’s fall it was all downhill thereafter for the Steelers in Baltimore’s 13-10 victory last night.
The win was hanging out there for the Steelers to take, but Pittsburgh’s quarterback play was so un-Roethlisbergian that the Ravens were able to win their third straight game at Heinz Field without seemingly much resistance.
The differential was a mere three points, but it might as well have been three touchdowns. There was just no way the Steelers were winning that game with Leftwich playing the way he did, and as injured as he appeared to be in the fourth quarter.
It is Monday Morning Quarterbacking, for sure, but the next man up should have been Charlie Batch. At least on that final drive.
Leftwich was wincing every time he threw the ball with any kind of mustard, and the result was several crisp bounce passes to his intended targets. Good if you are a point guard, bad if you are a quarterback.
The worst was his ground ball on second-and-11 from the Baltimore 43 to Mike Wallace, who was open near the 30 with just under five minutes remaining. A completion there would have put the Steelers in field-goal range and perhaps in position to move ahead for the winning touchdown.
Instead, on the next play Leftwich was blasted for a sack and was clearly damaged goods for the rest of the game. Not only did he appear to ding up his shoulder on his touchdown tumble, his ribs were obviously affecting his throws.
Injured shoulder and injured ribs and you still have him out there? Heck, shoulda just played Big Ben!
On the final drive, when Leftwich picked up a low snap and was seemingly ready to endure a game-ending sack, instead he somehow bounced out of the pocket and spied a wide-open David Gilreath downfield at the Baltimore 15.
No Raven was within 10 yards of him.
The crowd gasped as Leftwich wound up … and threw the thing like a shot put. It went thud into the turf, a 49-yard dud. I’ve seen Punt, Pass & Kick competitors heave it farther than that.
Had Leftwich been able to chuck it 15 yards further, which he certainly can do with ease when healthy, we’re brainstorming immaculate names today for the miraculous, game-winning, 72-yard bomb and also asking ourselves, “Who is David Gilreath?”
Playing with pain is one thing, playing while injured is another. Leftwich was injured. Coach Mike Tomlin should have yanked him for Batch.
Tomlin and Todd Haley also deserve criticism for some questionable play-calling, incredulously going away from a running game that was working so well (5.0 yards a pop) and insisting on having their injured quarterback throw it 39 times.
On the field-goal drive that cut the deficit to 13-10, the Steelers had the following running gains: 7, 11, 4, 5, 3 and 8. Yet on first down from the 12 and third-and-2 from the 4, Leftwich threw incomplete.
Jonathan Dwyer (not Rashard Mendenhall!) wins the game if Haley calls four straight runs there. Certainly on third down, it should have been Dwyer (12 carries, 55 yards, 4.6 average) running the ball twice.
In that situation, with that quarterback, they needed a touchdown, not a field goal.
Now they need a miracle to win the AFC North.
A bigger miracle than the one Leftwich was unable to deliver to Gilreath.
(Steve Treu covers the Steelers for The News.)