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Week 3 Recap: Sorry Charlie

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch (L) is handed the ball by Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace (17) after they connected on a 46-yard pass for a touchdown during the first quarter of their NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, Florida September 26, 2010. REUTERS/Pierre DuCharme(UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Sorry for doubting you, Charlie.  I’ll never do it again.

Team Dixon.  Team Leftwich.   It looks like we should have been on Team Batch all along.  Maybe the broken clavicle in 2008 really was a fluke injury.   Maybe last year’s horrendous three play outing really was the result of a broken wrist from a game of pickup basketball.  Maybe he really does still got it.

All I know is I’m not the only one who doubted Charlie Batch.   Yes, a number of my astute readers had faith in him.  Kudos to them.  But the fact remains his own head coach, Mike Tomlin, didn’t for one second consider him as the interim starter during Big Ben’s absence.  In fact, if not for Byron Leftwich‘s injury in the final preseason game, Chaz would be back in Homestead eating Cheetos right now.   Everybody from the talking heads on ESPN to Pittsburgh’s #1 sports radio personality, Mark Madden, thought Batch was done in Pittsburgh.

To paraphrase Tomlin, reports of Charlie’s demise look to have been greatly exaggerated.

Charlie Batch played the game of his life in leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 38-13 destruction of the previously undefeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  In his thirteen year career, Batch had never thrown three touchdown passes in a game until yesterday.  With yesterday’s outstanding performance, he went from fourth string QB who’ll likely be cut when Ben gets out of time-out to probably being the primary backup for the rest of the year.

The afternoon did not begin well for Chaz.  Following the opening kickoff, Batch was picked off on his first pass attempt.   It was a poor throw and a poor read although given his lack of reps with the first team offense it was completely understandable.  The Steelers D forced a FG.

After an exchange of punts, Batch hit Mike Wallace on a beautiful 46 yard bomb.  Wallace blew by two men and Batch dropped it in to him perfectly.  From there it was off the races for a Steeler offense which had scored one offensive touchdown in nine quarters.  On their next possession,  Batch did his best Dennis Dixon impersonation scrambling for a 24 yard gain(!).  Heath Miller caught a 21 yard dart with Rashard Mendenhall banging in from the 3.  The Steelers weren’t done.  The very next drive lasted all of two plays, the second of which was another TD bomb to Wallace.  The 41 yard pass was underthrown by about a half-yard but CB Aqib Talib deflected it right into the arms of Wallace, who did a great job of following the bouncing ball.

Three drives.  Twenty-one points.

While the offense was asplodin’, the Steelers defense was demonstrating why they are the best defense in the NFL.  They only forced two turnovers (one fumble and one INT), but they could’ve easily had three or four more.  On Tampa’s second drive, LaMarr Woodley dropped back into coverage and had the ball thrown right at him in a copy of the Vince Young pick he had last week except this time he couldn’t quite snag it.  Ziggy Hood batted a pass up into the air but couldn’t come down with the jump ball.  On Tampa’s other scoring drive, QB Josh Freeman badly overthrew his receiver and hit Ike Taylor in the worst possible place:  his hands.  Face Me Ike is an interesting story because he’ll be a free agent this off-season and it’s pretty clear he’s a fantastic cover corner.  If he just held on to 20% of the balls he makes plays on, he’d easily be considered one of the NFL’s elite CBs.

James Farrior forced a fumble on a rip-tackle of rookie Mike Williams.  And early in the fourth quarter, Bret Keisel had the most hilarious Pick Six you’ll ever see.  James Harrison absolutely destroyed Freeman’s intended target and the deflection wound up in BK’s arms.  What made it funny was as he rumbled the 79 yards for a TD, Willie Gay and Ike ran up to escort him to the end zone but were so much faster than the Big Fella they had to hold up to the point of backpedaling so as to not get too far ahead of him.

Of course, if I were Bucs coach Raheem Morris, I’d be embarrassed that Freeman was the only white jersey in the picture while four or five black jerseys rushed to Keisel’s aide.   But that’s the kind of hustle Dick LeBeau inspires in his guys.  I actually watched CBS’s pregame show yesterday which had a great segment on the Blitzburgh D.  What struck me was James Harrison’s quote regarding LeBeau:  “We’d die for that man.

I could go on and on about how awesome this team is defensively but I must return to the other side of the ball for a moment.   Mendenhall had a tremendous game, rushing 19 times for 143 yards and a TD.  Mendy was particularly impressive in the second half when Tampa knew the run was coming and he still churned out yardage.  The O-line did an outstanding job but Mendenhall showed patience following his blocks and then that sudden burst to the second level which makes me think he’s going to be a huge star if Bruce Arians sticks with the running game once Ben returns.  His first good run was a 15 yarder on their second scoring drive where he used the Spinarooney to avoid the first tackler.   In the third quarter, he had a 34 yard blast which was the exact same play as the OT game winner except this time his momentum carried him out of bounds or he would’ve had another 50 yard TD.  Early in the fourth quarter, he had an 18 yarder which would’ve been a lot longer if his jersey was made of cheaper fabric.

There really wasn’t much to dislike about this game.  Batch was picked off a second time in the fourth on a late throw over the middle (always a bad idea).  Why Arians has the offense throwing in that situation, lord only knows.  The defense surrendered another garbage time touchdown but by that point it was almost like a preseason game with all the backups and second stringers the Steelers were playing.   Rookie LB Jason Worilds had his first career sack, by the way.  Tampa moved the ball a little bit in the first half but the defense stiffened up when it counted.

While the Steelers were swabbing the decks with the Bucs, the Ravens were holding on for dear life against the hapless Cleveland Browns.  I always figured the Steelers would be sitting at 3-1 when the Messiah returned in week six.  Call me greedy, I want more.  Granted the Ravens are a more talented team than the Bucs but based on what happened yesterday, I actually think the Steelers have a pretty good shot of winning this weekend.  After all, if this season has taught me anything thus far, it’s to expect the unexpected.

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