The third-choice quarterback proves he has the heart to win games, writes Mike Tierney.
Charlie Batch has got Pittsburgh Steelers' backs
The typical third-string quarterback is a young, low-salaried player who has never started and likely never will. He is a human insurance policy, getting his uniform sweaty when injury fells the starter and the immediate back-up.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, who do things differently, employ an old soldier of 15 seasons who has not regularly taken an opening snap in a decade. For 11 years, Charlie Batch, the league's senior non-kicker, mostly stood near the bench – some seasons as the second guy, others as the third – waiting for playing opportunities that rarely came.
With a breakout of rib injuries – first to Ben Roethlisberger, then to Byron Leftwich – Batch was pressed into duty two weeks ago. Shedding rust, he was intercepted thrice by the Cleveland Browns in a loss that left Steeler Nation fretting over their seeming birthright to participation in the play-offs.
Having no options, the Steelers played Batch last Sunday at the Baltimore Ravens in a virtual elimination game for the AFC Central title. If anything, he regressed in the first half, which ended 13-6 in the Ravens' favour.
Then Batch began channelling his prior self as a regular with the Detroit Lions. Connecting on his final eight passes, he threw 219 yards in the second half and overtime to deal Baltimore a rare home loss.
As the game ended, an emotional Batch was seen in a sideline embrace, overcome by the realisation that possibly his final NFL start would be a keeper.
"Every game I go out there, I look at it that way," Batch told USA Today afterward. "I always have pride. You always want to prove that last week was a fluke, not knowing if the opportunity was going to happen again."
When the Lions jettisoned him in 2001, Batch had no clue that he would log more seasons with his second team than most players register in their careers. His initial contract with the Steelers in 2002 lasted all of one year.
But as a Pittsburgh native who understood the culture of a franchise that fancies itself as tougher and more team-orientated than the rest, Batch was comfortable with his limited duties.
"You always want to play, but my role is the back-up," he said on Wednesday, which was his 38th birthday.
The play that generated the most buzz against Baltimore was not a Batch pass or run, but a block. He sacrificed his middle-aged body to help spring tailback Jonathan Dwyer for a touchdown. "It shows you what kind of heart he has," Dwyer said.
Roethlisberger has been cleared to start tomorrow against the San Diego Chargers, which means Batch might bow out after this season on the highest of notes.
"If he's ready to play, you can't be sad about that. Ben is the guy," said Batch, his point of view illustrative of why the Steelers have kept bringing him back, year after year.
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