By John Perrotto
It didn’t take long for 37-year-old Charlie Batch to show he still had something left.
The veteran backup quarterback, filling in for the injured Ben Roethlisberger (ankle), appeared ready to be sacked on the Steelers’ first possession of Saturday’s 27-0 rout of the St. Louis Rams at Heinz Field. Batch was in the grasp of defensive end James Hall when he somehow got away and flipped a pass in the flat to running back Rashard Mendenhall, who turned it into a 35-yard gain.
Batch’s teammates were amazed that a quarterback of such an advanced age could pull of that kind of escape.
“He’s like Jello Man,” Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said.
“It’s tough to take Charlie down. I always tease him about having the least muscle of any player in the NFL. He was like Gumby or Sponge Bob on that play. Somehow he got out of it. When you have a guy come in and do something like that, it gives the whole team a lift.”
Batch filled in quite capably against the woeful Rams, who have the worst record in the league at 2-13, as he completed 15 of 22 passes for 208 yards.
It was different than what Roethlisberger was able to provide in a 20-3 loss at San Francisco on Monday night when he hobbled throughout while playing on the high left ankle sprain he suffered Dec. 8 in a win over Cleveland. Against the 49ers, Roethlisberger threw three interceptions, was sacked three times and lost a fumble.
Though Roethlisberger lobbied to play Saturday and was kept on the active roster, coach Mike Tomlin announced Friday he would start Batch.
“A week ago, when we played Ben Roethlisberger, we were coming off a Thursday night performance for a Monday night performance, so we had 11 days,” Tomlin said. “Had we had six or seven days, we probably wouldn’t have played him in San Francisco. The collateral damage coming out of a game like Monday night, on a short week, we made the decision pretty early that we weren’t even going attempt to try to work him in during the latter parts of the week and give him reps and preparation, given that it was a short week.”
Batch did just fine in Roethlisberger’s place and got plenty of help. Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 116 yards and the Steelers defense pitched a shutout while allowing 232 total yards.
“He did exactly what we expected him to do,” said Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace, who had four receptions for 82 yards. “He’s a veteran guy, a leader and he took charge of the team and led us to victory.”
Tomlin was more impressed by the way Batch ran the team than his final statistics.
“I thought he did a nice job in all areas, not only throwing but in pre-snap communication,” Tomlin said. “I thought he did a nice job of handling verbiage and getting people set at the line. He’s a veteran guy. We’ve won games with him in the past. If need be, we will win games with him in the future.”
Whether that future includes next Sunday’s regular-season finale at Cleveland remains to be seen as Tomlin said he will take some time to ponder whether to give Roethlisberger additional rest since the Steelers have wrapped up a playoff berth. The players will have three days off for Christmas until returning to practice Wednesday.
Batch has to hope Tomlin makes his decision early in the week. Taking regular repetitions with the first team in practice makes a big difference to a No. 2 quarterback.
“The dirty part of the job of being a backup quarterback is when you’re asked to go in on third-and-12 and complete pass after sitting for two hours,” Batch said. “It’s easier to start a game than come off the bench but I’m here to do whatever the team needs. This is Ben’s team and this team rolls when Ben is playing. I’m sure Ben will do everything in his power to get back in the lineup next week but I’d like to think I can do some things to help this team when Ben can’t play.”