New Castle News

December 25, 2011

Photo Gallery, Story: Steelers keep pace in AFC North, stuff reeling Rams

By Staff
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Charlie Batch doesn't know how many more games are left in his 37-year-old legs. Given the way the veteran quarterback played in the Steelers' ridiculously easy 27-0 victory over lifeless St. Louis on Saturday, it may be more than he thinks.

The crowd chanting the name of Pittsburgh's native son throughout, Batch played efficiently if not spectacularly while subbing for an injured Ben Roethlisberger, passing for 208 yards to help the Steelers keep their hopes for an AFC North title very much alive.

"Nobody wants to let this team down," Batch said. "One thing about it is we just try to keep the ball rolling, whoever is in there."

Batch is now 5-2 as a spot starter with the Steelers and could get another shot next week against Cleveland when the Steelers go for their  straight division title.

"We've won games with (Batch) in the past; if need be, we will games with him in the future," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We are very comfortable with our depth at the quarterback position."

The Steelers sure played like it.

Rashard Mendenhall ran for 116 yards and a touchdown against the NFL's worst rush defense, and John Clay and Ike Redman also scored as the Steelers cruised on a day Roethlisberger rested his badly sprained left ankle.

The two-time Super Bowl winner was active and available in case of emergency. The defense made sure there wasn't one, dominating the NFL's lowest-scoring offense to pitch its second shutout of the season.

"It's about playing good ball at the right time," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We need to build off this win and hopefully get one next week and carry that into the dance."

St. Louis' Steven Jackson rushed for 103 yards to top 1,000 for the seventh straight season, but backup quarterback Kellen Clemens sputtered in place of the injured Sam Bradford. St. Louis (2-13) managed just 232 yards while getting blanked for the second time in 20 days.

A season after going 7-9 and appearing to be a team on the rise, the Rams head into their finale next week against San Francisco tied with Indianapolis for the worst record in the league.

Clemens, signed less than three weeks ago, completed 9 of 24 passes for 91 yards. He didn't turn it over, but he couldn't make anything happen against the league's top-ranked defense.

"There's a few throws that I just should have hit," Clemens said. "You can't leave opportunities on the field against a defense like that, and we did today."

Batch, making just his seventh start since 2001, had no such issues. He completed 15 of 22 passes, his only hiccup coming on a second-quarter interception on which intended receiver Antonio Brown slipped.

While Batch lacks Roethlisberger's big-time arm, he did get the ball downfield on a couple of occasions, including a 46-yard pass to Mike Wallace in the fourth quarter that set up Mendenhall's 1-yard plunge that put Pittsburgh ahead 20-0.

It was more than enough cushion for a defense that looked just fine even without injured outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who continues to nurse a strained right hamstring. James Harrison collected his ninth sack of the season in his return from a one-game suspension for a series of illegal hits, and Pittsburgh never let St. Louis get within 10 yards of the end zone.

"The goose egg is nice," Keisel said. "Anytime you can hold an NFL team to nothing is nice."

The Rams were able to move the ball at times, mainly on the legs of Jackson, one of the few bright spots in a miserable season that has left coach Steve Spagnuolo's future very much in doubt.

"Let's face it, the man is a warrior," Spagnuolo said of Jackson. "That's one of the weapons we have and we're going to use it as much as we can, knowing we can't run every down."

It might not have been a bad idea.

Each time the Rams appeared ready to make things interesting, they would find a way to let the Steelers off the hook. Spagnuolo opened up the playbook in the second quarter, with punter Donnie Jones pulling the ball down and looking to pass on a fake punt. Pittsburgh covered it well and Jones took off, only to be tackled a yard short of the first down, a frustrating season summed up in one play.

"It was an aggressive call — we got the right look and thought we could get it," Spagnuolo said. "They did a nice job taking it away."

St. Louis put together a steady drive late in the first half but got conservative after moving into Pittsburgh territory, milking the clock so Josh Brown could attempt a 52-yard field goal at a stadium where 22-yarders aren't a given. The ball sailed wide left, and Brown later missed wide right in the fourth quarter with the game still somewhat competitive.

Emphasis on the somewhat.

The Steelers were never in any real danger as Mendenhall found plenty of room to maneuver, while Batch extended a couple of plays with his feet to keep drives alive.

Mendenhall's 52-yard run in the second quarter set up Clay's first NFL carry, a 10-yard burst over right tackle that gave Pittsburgh a 10-0 lead.

Shaun Suisham drilled a field goal in the third quarter to put the Steelers up 13-0. After Brown missed his second kick of the day early in the fourth, Pittsburgh put it away with a pair of cruelly efficient touchdown drives.

"Yes, we scored 27 points, but we had opportunities to put 35 points on the board and we weren't able to get it in the end zone during that time," Batch said. "There's always room for improvement."

NOTES: Pittsburgh WR Hines Ward caught four passes and now has 995 for his career. ... Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown broke former running back Barry Foster's club record for all-purpose yards in a season. Brown has 2,048, ahead of Foster's mark of 2,034 set in 1992. ... St. Louis DE Chris Long failed to register a sack for just the second time in the last nine games. ... Josh Brown has made 73 percent (19 of 26) of his field goal attempts this season, the second-worst mark of his nine-year career.