By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Just three weeks into this NFL season, there are only three undefeated teams.
In a league where parity rules, that’s not really a surprise. But it certainly amazes some that the 3-0 teams are the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC and the Chicago Bears in the NFC.
The Chiefs lead in rushing offense, while the Bears are tops in rushing defense. The Steelers remained unbeaten with a stout defense, but an emerging offense that tore apart Tampa Bay last week. The Steelers are No. 1 in scoring ratio with 72 points scored and a league-best 33 points allowed for 39 net points.
What’s surprising to some is that the Steelers have reached 3-0 without their two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. In fact, they have used three different quarterbacks since the preseason began. But the Steelers keep on rolling.
“I think people might be making more of it than what it is, because nobody is surprised about it in this room,” Steelers second-year wideout Mike Wallace said. “And it’s not just one guy who plays this game.
“This is a team game, and everyone on this team works hard every day. We started preparing for this season last spring, and we worked hard back then, too. We should be 3-0, and we deserve to be 3-0.”
Byron Leftwich was expected to lead the Steelers offense while Roethlisberger served his four-game suspension, but a knee injury in the final preseason game sent that plan awry. The Steelers chose Dennis Dixon to start at quarterback, but an injury thwarted his chances as well.
When the Steelers meet the Baltimore Ravens Sunday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field, veteran Charlie Batch will get his second straight start. That, Leftwich said, proves that football is the ultimate team game.
“It’s the game we play and the nature of the business that we’re in,” Leftwich said. “Sure, it’s unfortunate, at times, that some individuals have to miss games. But when you play a team sport, and with the team that we have here, there’s always going to be somebody to step in and get the job done.
“I knew we were going to have a good football team. I just think everybody around us didn’t believe we were capable enough to go out and win with what we went through at quarterback, but I had a strong belief in this football team and the type of team that we have. This is the ultimate team game, and I knew this team was capable of going out and beating anybody.”
It’s a tough task to beat the Ravens, no matter who’s starting at quarterback, considering their talent level and the intensity of the rivalry between them and the Steelers. But the home team usually has the most success in the series.
The teams split last season and have a chance to make a statement to go 4-0 without Roethlisberger, but Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel doesn’t exactly see it that way.
“I don’t know if it’s a statement to be 4-0 without Ben, but it would be a good start,” Keisel said. “It’s a lot better than 0-4, so hopefully we’ll get this next one and go into the bye with a jump on the last three-quarters of the season. I think we have a good team. Ben’s a great quarterback, and he’s a difference-maker on the field. But that’s what makes this game great.
“It’s a team game, and it takes a team to win or lose games. We know we have a lot of great players on this team, and we rallied together to get ready for this season. Last year was a disappointment, so everybody worked hard to make sure that didn’t happen again this year. I think that was our motivation this year and not to go 4-0 just to do it without Ben. We want to win every game anyway, but beating the Ravens to go 4-0 would be really great.”
Steelers tight end Heath Miller basically agreed.
“It’s Baltimore,” Miller said. “It’s a divisional game, and it’s our first divisional game of the year. So, it’s a game that we definitely want to win. We just set out to win each and every week, no matter who we play. And we’ve been able to do that the first three weeks. But it’s only three ball games.
“We’re going to go for that fourth win this week. I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind when we step on the field, and there won’t be any doubt this week. That’s how we all feel in this locker room, and I don’t think that will change. No matter who we play or who’s playing quarterback for us.”
Leftwich said he won’t be restricted at all four weeks after his knee sprain in the final preseason game against Carolina.
“I was fine this week, but I’m a lot better this week,” Leftwich said. “I’m really better, and I’ll be ready to go. You have some good and bad days, but it’s a process. And I’m a whole lot better today than I was last Thursday.”
Notes: Steelers nose tackle Chris Hoke (right knee) is still questionable for the Ravens game, but his status has improved somewhat. … Offensive guard Trai Essex (left ankle) still limps badly and is out, along with quarterback Dennis Dixon (knee surgery).