In what was very likely the last start of Charlie Batch's 15-year, journeyman career, he led the desperate Pittsburgh Steelers into arch-rival Baltimore for a crucial 23-20 victory. The Ravens, now 9-3, had not lost a home game in the last two years and were heavy favorites without the injured Ben Roethlisberger. Last week, with the 37-year-old Batch under center, the Steelers committed eight turnovers in an embarrassing loss to lowly Cleveland.
"This is big. It was another opportunity for me to come out here and start, which is rare right now," Batch told reporters after the game. "I knew going into it that I had to play better. I had to go out there and lead this offense the way that I know I can."
At 7-5 in a surprisingly good AFC -- and in the always-brutal AFC North -- Pittsburgh once again finds itself in the thick of the wildcard playoff race with Roethlisberger, who is expected to play next week against San Diego. The defense, while not as dominant as it has been in years past, is still potent, ranking first in pass yards against and fifth in rush yards against. Against Joe Flacco, it allowed a mere 20 percent of passes completed deeper than 15 yards, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
But it was Batch who earned every ounce of this win, going 25-36 for 276 yards, one touchdown and one interception. It was a gritty performance, and after the game he broke down emotionally and cried.
"You put your heart and soul into it," he said. "You try to leave everything out on the field."
"Leaving it on the field" is precisely what Batch has done throughout his pro football career. He has started just nine games since Detroit released him in 2001 and, if not for the season-ending injury to second-string QB Byron Leftwich, Batch -- the backup backup -- wouldn't even have played. But perseverance is everything.
"I've never known anyone as tough as Charlie Batch," Steelers center Doug Legursky said. "We're lucky to have him."
The life of an NFL backup is neither glamorous nor always rewarding. While staying ready is one thing, you never know when that opportunity will come, or if it ever will. Batch, after his abysmal performance last week, faced the very real possibility that he would never see the field again. Yet, in orchestrating a double-digit comeback and a 61-yard drive during the final minutes Sunday to set up Shaun Suisham's game-winning field goal, Batch took full advantage of his opportunity ... perhaps for the final time.