New Castle News

Sports

December 3, 2012

Steve Treu on the Steelers: Batch may have saved his best for last

NEW CASTLE — Typically we have to wait until the Super Bowl’s final snap to write the story of an NFL season.

But every once in awhile a tear in pro football spacetime allows us to peer into the future and begin authoring history before it occurs.

We may have just witnessed one of those glitches, and it was capped by the most physical of moments in any football battle — a tender, postgame man-hug.

First of all, a lesson for all of us.

This is why they call it gambling: Charlie Batch just led Pittsburgh to a 23-20 comeback victory in Baltimore, the first time in eight years that the Ravens surrendered a 10-point lead and lost at home.

Forget table tennis, the NFL has to be Forrest Gump’s favorite sport. You never know what you’re gonna get.

The Steelers’ stunning win was sweeter than that proverbial box of chocolates for Batch, who was justifiably much-maligned after last week’s eight-turnover debacle in Cleveland.

Today, he’s President of Black-and-Gold Nation.

Funny, because Batch may never step behind center again in his career.

Perhaps a few thought that the Steelers could win this game, and only then because ESPN highlights don’t reach the inner rings of Saturn for a month after each game is played.

Seriously, no way on Earth could anyone have seen this coming, at least not in the way that it did. Not with Batch playing the hero after throwing with all of the effectiveness of an actual goat last week.

As Shaun Suisham’s 42-yard field goal at triple zeroes flew through, Batch’s long embrace with Ben Roethlisberger said it all: It doesn’t get any better than this.

Except it just might get better.

Batch overcame a few mistakes, most notably his first-half overthrow of a wide-open Mike Wallace in the end zone, to turn in perhaps the most clutch performance from his 15 seasons in the league.

Trailing 20-13 entering the fourth quarter, Batch first tossed a 7-yard touchdown strike to Heath Miller (who is having the best season of his eight-year career) to tie it up and then engineered a 61-yard drive to set up Suisham’s game-winner as time expired.

Roethlisberger could not have done it any better on that drive.

Backed up in the shadow of his own goal posts, the howling, hostile crowd was anticipating another hideous turnover; see Sanders, Manny and his electrifying 72-yard catch-and-run touchdown … oops! (Sanders’ fumble with nothing but green grass in front of him was inexplicable, unless you’ve been watching the Steelers for the past month, then it was quite explicable).

Instead of coughing up the ball and handing Baltimore the AFC North, Batch sliced up the Ravens with precision passes and marched the Steelers right down the field.

He hit Wallace for 15 yards on third-and-7 from the Pittsburgh 18, then Wallace again for 7, Antonio Brown twice for 13 combined and back to Wallace for another 10 into field-goal range. Baltimore’s roughing-the-passer penalty made it a chip shot for Suisham, who has now nailed 28 straight inside the 50, but that penalty was a side note.

Big Chuck would surely have picked up that yardage on his next aerial.

Looking back after the season is over, we may hold Batch’s potential season-saving performance in the same regard as that unforgettable play by Jerome Bettis seven years ago this month, when the bruising back steamrolled Chicago’s Brian Urlacher en route to the end zone of a 21-9 victory at Heinz Field.

The Steelers began that wintry day reeling, on a losing streak and holding on only to Wild Card dreams. When the wheels on the Bus went ’round and ’round over Urlacher, the Steelers had found their identity and powered eight wins in a row all the way to One for the Thumb in Detroit.

Reeling? Losing streak? Clinging to Wild Card hopes?

Sound familiar?

They were 7-5 going into that game and are 7-5 now. The AFC North is gone (though the Ravens do have four losable games against playoff contenders down the stretch), but a Wild Card berth is now firmly in their sights.

Seemingly mired in the midst of a holiday season void of good cheer, the Steelers may have stolen a page out of the Grinch’s playbook as their hearts grew three sizes last night. We’ll see if that is so come January when Pittsburgh and Baltimore likely go at it again.

If Roethlisberger returns next Sunday and his trusted 37-year-old backup never takes another snap, Batch’s final act as a Steeler may have been less Grinch and more Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.

Foreshadowing the future.

(Steve Treu covers the Steelers for The News.)

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