PITTSBURGH (AP)—For many NFL teams, all these quarterback injuries might ruin a season. The Pittsburgh Steelers simply plug in another player and keep winning.
Charlie Batch improvised a 1-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter, and his passing led to another score before he left with a broken right hand. The Steelers withstood their second QB injury in three weeks to beat the rival Cleveland Browns 34-21 Sunday night.
Whatever the Steelers lack in quarterback quality—and, with a 7-2 record that ties them with Cincinnati for the AFC North lead, it’s not much—they’re making up for it with depth. Ben Roethlisberger missed a second straight game with an injured knee, but their other three quarterbacks were just fine.
Tommy Maddox replaced Batch to run an efficient and time-consuming offense in the second half, and college QB-turned-wide receiver Antwaan Randle El threw a 51-yard scoring pass to Hines Ward on a reverse early in the third quarter to put the Steelers up 24-7.
Randle El, an option quarterback at Indiana, also lined up under center and scooted for a 12-yard run later in the third quarter, about the time the Browns were wondering where all these quarterbacks were coming from.
“It’s really weird,” Maddox said of a recent streak of injuries that also left the Steelers without star linebacker James Farrior. “Sometimes you don’t need anybody. Sometimes you need to use everybody.”
Batch, 2-0 as a starter this season after losing his last 10 NFL starts with the Lions in 2000-01, is expected to be out at least two games, according to coach Bill Cowher. However, Roethlisberger could return Sunday at Baltimore after missing three of the Steelers’ first nine games with injuries to both knees.
And to think some NFL teams don’t have a single quarterback who can move an offense, much less four.
“I can still play quarterback—I just don’t have that urge I had as a rookie,” Randle El said. “But maybe when I’m too old and slow to play receiver, they’ll let me play quarterback.”
Batch, shaky the week before in a 20-10 victory at Green Bay in his first NFL start in four years, looked smooth and polished while directing the Steelers to a 17-7 halftime lead. Even when he underthrew the ball, it worked out—Cedrick Wilson shed two defenders by coming back for a 43-yard reception that led to Jerome Bettis’ 1-yard TD run midway through the second quarter.
Batch scored with 6 seconds left in the half, the Steelers out of timeouts and both teams scrambling to line up after Batch twice found Hines Ward to put the ball on the 1. Running a play Steelers QBs are supposed to use in such circumstances, Batch managed to line up the offense and score himself before the Browns’ defense was set up.
“That’s the objective—to get the play off before they can substitute on defense,” Batch said.
Batch was hurt when his hand struck a Browns player’s helmet on a followthrough during the second quarter but stayed in to direct that 40-yard touchdown drive, which was set up by linebacker Joey Porter’s interception of a deflected Trent Dilfer pass.
“I thought the game slowed down for him this week. He made good decisions and looked comfortable out there,” Cowher said of Batch (13-of-19, 150 yards). “When you’ve been out that long, you have to get back up to game speed.”
Ward also enjoyed a big game, making eight catches for 124 yards to give him 543 receptions for his career, breaking Hall of Famer John Stallworth’s team record of 537. No other receiver in team history has more than 358.
The Browns (3-6) lost their 10th in 11 games against Pittsburgh, and their fourth in five games overall amid a familiar story line: not enough offense. The Browns, who came into the game averaging 14.1 points, mounted a 66-yard drive on an opening possession ended by Reuben Droughns’ 5-yard TD run, but did little else until scoring two TDs in the final 4:23.
“They took some things away from us defensively and put us in some holes, and we had to try to catch up throwing the ball,” said Dilfer, 17-of-34 for 253 yards.
Droughns, on pace to become the Browns’ first 1,000-yard rusher in 20 years, was held to 56 yards with no run longer than 9 yards. Cleveland’s other scoring came on Leigh Bodden’s 59-yard return of a blocked field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter, then a 9-yard pass from Dilfer to Antonio Bryant.
“They’ve got a good football team over there,” Bryant said. “But I think we showed some things that we’re developing into a good team, too.”
Randle El’s last two passes have gone for touchdowns; he threw a 10-yarder on his only attempt last season. He is 12-of-14 for 112 yards in his NFL career. … The Browns lost CB Daylon McCutcheon (bruised abdomen) in the first quarter. … The Browns had two turnovers, giving them 14 in six games. … Cowher is 16-5 against the Browns, the team he once played for.
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