So much for worrying about whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers can win without their $102 million franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Charlie Batch, the Steelers fourth-string quarterback, did his share to rout the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and help the team remain undefeated. He completed 12 out 17 passes for 186 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. (The second one occurred toward the end of the game when the outcome was pretty much decided. But the first one wasn't so good.)
You'd be hard-pressed to find a Steelers fan who isn't a fan of Batch, who was born in Homestead, Pennsylvania. His future with the team was uncertain going into this season ... just imagine if they had cut him. Batch has always been a dependable backup when Ben's been injured (or, you know, suspended) and has long been recognized for his charitable contributions to his hometown. He definitely deserved being such a major part of this win. It made us Steelers fans all warm and fuzzy inside.
It didn't start out so great. Batch threw an interception with the offense's first possession, but as a veteran playing in his 13th season, he was able to rally after that blunder. That mistake led to an early Tampa Bay field goal by Conner Barth and a 3-0 lead, but the Steelers never looked back.
To ignite the Steelers offense, Batch threw two huge TD passes to receiver Mike Wallace (41 and 46 yards). Quite a contrast to the offense doing pretty much nothing for the last two games. Rookie Cody Grimm, who started instead of suspended safety Tanard Jackson, wasn't in position for that first TD, while cornerback Aqib Talib tipped the ball right into Wallace's hands for the second one.
Let's just say the Steelers got a couple of lucky bounces. The Steelers hadn't scored an offensive touchdown in regulation all season long -- hey, they were due.
Batch was even effective on the ground (huh??), running up the middle for 24 yards on 3rd-and-6 during the second quarter. This led to a Rashard Mendenhall 3-yard TD run, which put the Steelers up 14-6. Batch threw his third touchdown pass to Hines Ward, giving the Steelers a 28-6 lead at halftime.
Speaking of Mendenhall, it wasn't just the passing game that elevated the offense from nonexistent last week to super-efficient this week. He ran for 143 yards on 19 carries, and the Steelers finished with 201 yards on the ground. Isaac Redman, who's proving to be quite an impressive short-yardage back, ran for 31 yards on 5 carries. The Steelers threw the ball for a total of three times(!) in the second half, yet were still able to rack up 397 yards offensively.
And, with the way the Steelers defense has been playing this season, it seems that no victory would've been complete without a turnover or two. The highlight was defensive end Brett Keisel's interception of quarterback Josh Freeman's pass, the first play of the fourth quarter. He caught the ball after it deflected off Sammie Stroughter's hands, the intended receiver. Keisel proceeded to rumble down the field for 79 yards in a way only a huge defensive end can, helped by an entourage of Steelers blockers. It was the team's first defensive touchdown for the season.
Also, Bucs wide receiver Mike Williams fumbled the ball as he was tackled by linebacker James Farrior. That set up the 46-yard touchdown catch by Mike Wallace.
The Bucs offense was mostly ineffective, with their best driving coming at the end of the first quarter, producing a 15-play, 74-yard drive. But the stingy Steelers defense stopped them at the 5-yard line as the second quarter began, having to end the drive with another field goal.
Freeman was 20 for 31 with 184 yards and said interception. He also was sacked three times. The Bucs rushed for a total of 75 yards. When the Steelers were up by 32 points during the fourth quarter, Freeman was pulled in favor of backup Josh Johnson. Johnson was a perfect 6 for 6 and the scoring drive ended with a TD on 4th and 1 at the goal line, but the game was over at that point. That was only the second touchdown scored against the Steelers defense this season.
Steelers star safety Troy Polamalu was also pulled toward the end of the game, as the day was pretty much won, but even helmet-less and on the sidelines, he couldn't resist jumping up for the ball and acrobatically catching it as it was thrown out of bounds. Like a moth to a flame that football is to Polamalu.
It was most definitely a team win for the Steelers. The worst they can do after not having Roethlisberger due to his suspension is going 3-1. Did anyone out there ever predict this? Their last game without him will be against division rival and heavy hitters the Baltimore Ravens, who are currently 2-1. That should be quite the game to watch.
And, of course, the question always remains: Who will be the starting quarterback for the Steelers?