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Charlie Batch needed this game.
When you’re third string behind a $100 million quarterback, your chances don’t come very often.
Last week when Byron Leftwich (second on the depth chart), went down Batch got his chance to start against a Cleveland Browns team the Steelers had been dominating for years. Eight turnovers later and the Browns had their first victory over the Steelers since 2009, 20-14.
Of course, not all those turnovers were Batch’s fault, nor was the loss completely because of him. To be honest, though, he was awful. He took six sacks and threw three interceptions. A quarterback has to inspire his team and the Steelers showed the life of an abandoned Studebaker.
If that was Batch’s final game as a Steeler his legacy, what little there was on the playing field, would be left with a huge blemish. This was a game his team needed and he let them down.
Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t declared out until late in the week as the Steelers approached the game with Baltimore, their biggest rival. Of course the Ravens are no more than the old Browns dressed in purple with a new address. Big Ben’s absence meant another shot for Batch.
Somehow the oddsmakers made the Ravens a 7-point favorite despite the fact 7 of the last 11 matchups between the teams ended by a 3-point margin. This figured to be another close game. One mistake could easily make the difference, and Batch was coming off making a bunch.
I watched ESPN’s NFL Countdown last Sunday morning. The Steelers/Ravens segment could have been called “Bash Charlie.” Oh yeah, some panelists were having good time knocking him and the Steelers chances to pull an upset. It seemed no one outside the Pittsburgh locker room had much faith in Batch or their chances.
But the Steelers weren’t yielding a thing. To win they knew it would be a battle. They were ready. Baltimore was the last team in the league that would make things easy for them and it showed with a fight on the first play from scrimmage.
Neither team played perfectly, or even that well. There are just too many great athletes on both teams offensively and defensively to allow that. Big plays happened like they often do in the history of this series, mostly by the defense.
The 15 year veteran didn’t let that get him down. He wasn’t great, but he was good – and that was lead.
Batch threw an interception, took a couple sacks and painfully watched his receivers drop a few passes. But he persisted. When the money was on the table, Batch threw the block that got Jonathan Dwyer into the end zone that tied the game at 13-13.
In the fourth quarter Ed Reed intercepted Batch’s pass in the end zone. There was that lingering specter of lost opportunity. A last chance slipping out of his fingers along with the playoff hopes of his team.
The football gods smiled upon Charlie this day. Maybe they owed him one from the week before. Three plays after Reed’s interception, Ravens QB Joe Flacco fumbled the ball back to the Steelers. Two minutes later Batch hit Heath Miller in the end zone to tie the game again, 20-20.
The Steelers defense shut down the Ravens once more, giving the offense the ball back with 6:14 to play. Batch had trained his whole life for this moment. Years of holding a clipboard with a baseball cap the only head protection he needed couldn’t stop him. He was 5 for 5 passing and engineered a drive enabling Steeler kicker Shaun Suisham to hit a game winning field goal with no time left on the clock.
Full disclosure, I’m a Steeler fan. I bet against them when the numbers call for it, but otherwise I root for the black and gold. To me, Batch is one of the perfect Steelers. Did you see him bury his head in Big Ben’s shoulder and cry after the game? That’s called heart.
I love guys whose heart out weighs their talent, and the Steelers always seem to have their share of them. Maybe that’s why they’ve won more Super Bowls than any other franchise. From Rocky Bleier to Hines Ward to Batch, there are seemingly marginal athletes with multiple rings.
A couple seasons back, Leftwich had won a Super Bowl and made a real contribution to the Steelers success. He was offered a contract by other teams and was asked by the media if he would now be looking elsewhere for another chance, a chance where he could possibly start. “Heck no,” he said (I’m paraphrasing). “I’m staying right here. This is football heaven.”
Byron, I have a feeling Charlie would second that.
Chris Andrews has over 30 years of experience as a bookmaker in Nevada. You can follow him on Twitter@AndrewsSports. Chris has a dedicated thread in the Pregame.com forums, answering your questions and more. Contact Chris at [email protected].