AFC North: Charlie Batch

The Pittsburgh Steelers joined in the run on quarterbacks in the fourth round, although they didn't take the one that had been linked to them.

The Steelers selected Oklahoma's Landry Jones with the 115th overall pick. He was the fourth quarterback drafted in the first 18 picks of the fourth round.

Most had linked the Steelers to Tennessee's Tyler Bray and Miami of Ohio's Zac Dysert. Instead, the Steelers went with Jones, who was the No. 1 quarterback in the draft on ESPN's Bill Polian's board. He said Jones has a big arm and quick release who was hurt last season by the lack of a supporting cast.

This is the highest that the Steelers have taken a quarterback since drafting Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004 first round. Jones will have time to develop behind Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski, who was signed this offseason.

The addition of Jones likely means the end of Charlie Batch's Steelers career. Batch completed his 11th year in Pittsburgh, which is the second-longest current tenure of any quarterback with the same team after Tom Brady.

Jones is a pure pocket passer and won't extend plays like Roethlisberger. According to ESPN Stats & Information, since the start of the 2010 season, Jones completed 27.4 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and five interceptions when forced to scramble out of the pocket.

There is also an unusual connection between Jones and Roethlisberger. Jones' wife, Whitney Hand, is a former teammate of Roethlisberger's sister, Carlee. Both played on Oklahoma's women's basketball team. Hand was drafted higher than Jones, when she was selected in the third round of the WNBA 12 days ago.

Jones is the seventh QB taken following EJ Manuel (Buffalo, first round), Geno Smith (N.Y. Jets, second round), Mike Glennon (third round, Tampa Bay), Matt Barkley (fourth round, Philadelphia), Ryan Nassib (fourth round, N.Y. Giants) and Tyler Wilson (fourth round, Oakland).
Owners and coaches continue to provide some notes from the NFL owners meetings, which are beginning to wind down in Arizona. Here's another packed edition of the wake-up call ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS
  • Owner Steve Bisciotti told The NFL Network that he has a gut feeling that safety Ed Reed will remain with the Ravens.
  • The Ravens are interested in a handful of free-agent pass-rushers: Elvis Dumervil, James Harrison, Osi Umenyiora and Dwight Freeney. "We’re never going to walk away from a good player, and there just happens to be some pass rushers available right now,” coach John Harbaugh said, via the team's website.
  • Baltimore is planning to meet with Raiders free-agent safety Michael Huff by the weekend, according to The Baltimore Sun. Huff, 30, is seen as a fallback option if Reed signs with the Texans, the paper reported.
  • The Ravens' "aura" led Marcus Spears to sign with Baltimore in free agency, the former Cowboys defensive end told the Ravens' official website. The Chiefs, Jaguars and Patriots showed interest in him.
CINCINNATI BENGALS
  • Head coach Marvin Lewis told the Cincinnati Enquirer that getting to the postseason isn't good enough. The Bengals have made the playoffs three of the past four seasons but have yet to win a postseason game. "We’re not satisfied at all," Lewis said. "There was a perception they never got to the playoffs, now there is the perception we are satisfied with it. Someone is putting words in people’s mouths again.”
  • Lewis told the team's official website that he doubts he'll move Rey Maualuga, who recently re-signed with the team, from middle to outside linebacker. "We're very comfortable how we played on defense and all we do is keep getting better with those kids," Lewis said. "Rey had to manage KinderCare out there and he did a good managing it," Lewis said. "I never said we would move (Vontaze Burfict) to the middle before."
PITTSBURGH STEELERS
  • Head coach Mike Tomlin delivered a strong message to those who doubt the Steelers can be a playoff team this season after losing the likes of linebacker James Harrison, cornerback Keenan Lewis and running back Rashard Mendenhall. "That's March talk," Tomlin said, via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I'll see you at stadiums in the fall."
  • Tomlin isn't a believer in the read-option offense. "I think it's the flavor of the day," Tomlin said, via NFC East blogger Dan Graziano. "We will see if it's the flavor of the year. We'll see if guys are committed to getting their guys hit." In the Steelers' only game against the read option, they held the Redskins to one touchdown and limited Robert Griffin III to 185 yards of total offense.
  • Team officials said there is a chance that Charlie Batch could return next season even though the Steelers signed Bruce Gradkowski to be the primary backup to Ben Roethlisberger, according to the Tribune-Review. Batch has played the past eight seasons in Pittsburgh.
CLEVELAND BROWNS
  • It's unclear if the Browns made kicker Phil Dawson an offer or how hard they tried to keep him before he signed with the 49ers, The Plain Dealer reported. This is part of the Browns' statement on Dawson: "We know how much Phil meant to our organization and our fans, and he will always hold a special place in our franchise's history and with the city of Cleveland. We want to wish Phil and his family the best of success in San Francisco."
  • The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto believes the Browns are taking a calculated risk in letting Dawson sign with the 49ers. "(D)on't be surprised if the Browns look for a young kicker, be it low in the draft or perhaps someone who has been cut once or twice -- as Dawson was back in the late 1990s," Pluto wrote.
  • Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown will have a formal role with the Browns again, owner Jimmy Haslam told the Akron Beacon Journal. Haslam wouldn't elaborate on the specifics of Brown's responsibilities. An announcement will be made over the next couple of weeks.
  • The Cardinals are waiting for Josh Cribbs' surgically repaired meniscus to heal before continuing talks with the Browns' free-agent wide receiver/kick returner, his agent told multiple media outlets.
The Steelers upgraded their backup quarterback spot by agreeing to terms on a three-year contract with Bruce Gradkowski, according to NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Pittsburgh wanted to get younger at that spot after Charlie Batch (38 years old) and Byron Leftwich (33) both struggled filling in for Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers were able to do that with Gradkowski, who turned 30 in January, and didn't sacrifice on experience. Gradkowski has played seven years in the NFL and this is his third stop in the AFC North after a short stint in Cleveland and a two-year run as Andy Dalton's backup in Cincinnati.

With Gradkowski, the Steelers aren't expected to bring back Batch or Leftwich, both of whom are free agents. Batch completed his 11th year in Pittsburgh, which is the second-longest current tenure of any quarterback with the same team after Tom Brady.

This was a move the Steelers had to make, especially after Batch and Leftwich combined for one touchdown and five interceptions last season.

Gradkowski is a better backup than his 6-14 record as a starter would indicate. Two years ago, Gradkowski led the Bengals to a come-from-behind win over the Browns after replacing an injured Dalton. Last preseason, Gradkowski threw three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 96.0 passer rating.

The backup quarterback position is an important one for Pittsburgh considering Roethlisberger's history. Roethlisberger has missed five games over the past five seasons because of an injury. He was sidelined three games last year with a shoulder/rib injury and missed a game in 2011 because of an ankle injury.
By Tuesday, teams will have to be under the salary cap, restricted free agents will get their tenders and unrestricted free agents will be able to sign with anyone. As we wait for the mayhem to start, here's your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Running back Bernard Pierce, perhaps the best of last year's rookie class for the Ravens, told The Baltimore Sun that he has recovered from a series of injuries, which included a bone bruise in his knee. Pierce didn't have to undergo any surgical procedures, so he can focus on getting physically ready for next season. "I'm looking for the same outcome, just a little better," Pierce said. "I feel like I did good for my first year. Next year, I'm going to try to do a lot better. The stats will speak for themselves at the end of the day." Pierce gained 202 yards in the playoffs after running for 532 yards in the regular season.

BENGALS: The Bengals signed running back Cedric Peerman, a special-teams standout who could have become a free agent next week, to a two-year deal. He had two long runs off fake punts last season. He also carried 34 times for 178 yards. The team also tendered contracts to safety Jeromy Miles (a $1.3 million first-right-of-refusal offer for a restricted free agent) and to two exclusive-rights free agents, receiver Andrew Hawkins and linebacker Vincent Rey. All four of these guys have made significant contributions to us reaching the playoffs each of the last two years," coach Marvin Lewis said in a statement, via the team's official website. “They are players we want to retain, and this (tender process) is a step in that direction.”

STEELERS: Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette doesn't see the Steelers drafting a quarterback any higher than the fifth round. As Dulac points out, that's been the time that the Steelers have decided to look for a developmental quarterback, taking Dennis Dixon (2008), Brian St. Pierre (2003) and Tee Martin (2000) in the fifth round. The Steelers went with veterans Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich as Ben Roethlisberger's backups last season. This could be the year when Pittsburgh goes with a younger quarterback at that spot, or at least at No. 3.

BROWNS: The Plain Dealer speculated that the Browns could go after free agent Louis Vasquez to take over at left guard for Jason Pinkston, who missed the final 10 games last season after having a blood clot in his lung. The paper reported that the Browns are uncertain whether Pinkston will return. Vasquez, a massive lineman at 6-feet-4, 330 pounds, started for new offensive coordinator Norv Turner in San Diego for the past four seasons. He turns 26 next month and is entering the prime of his career.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: How each AFC North team needs to address the quarterback position.

Baltimore Ravens: The biggest issue with Baltimore is whether it will reach a long-term deal with Joe Flacco by Monday or use the franchise tag on him to keep him off the free-agent market. If the Ravens use the tag, it will likely be the exclusive one to stop Flacco from negotiating with other teams. It's safe to say the Super Bowl MVP will remain the Ravens' starter in 2013. There is more uncertainty with the backup spot. Tyrod Taylor has been Flacco's backup the past two seasons, but there was a sense that Baltimore tried to upgrade the spot when it signed Curtis Painter last offseason. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Ravens used a late-round pick on a quarterback or signed a veteran free agent to compete with Taylor again. The backup quarterback position hasn't been an important spot for the Ravens because Flacco hasn't missed a game in five NFL seasons. UPDATE: The Ravens and Flacco agreed to a long-term deal Friday night.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals can't be happy that Andy Dalton had four interceptions returned for touchdowns last season and flopped in the playoffs for a second consecutive year. But Cincinnati still has confidence in Dalton and isn't expected to bring in anyone who will threaten his hold on the starting job. There is a decision to be made at the No. 2 spot because Bruce Gradkowski is a free agent. The Bengals will probably look to re-sign Gradkowski, who is familiar with Jay Gruden's offense. If the team decides to go in a different direction, the Bengals could add another veteran backup (which has been head coach Marvin Lewis' preference) or use a late-round pick on a quarterback.

Cleveland Browns: This is the one starting quarterback job that is up in the air in the division. The Browns' new regime will have a competition in training camp, but Brandon Weeden is still considered the favorite to remain the starter. There's a chance that the Browns will trade for Patriots backup Ryan Mallett, a rumored favorite of vice president of player personnel Mike Lombardi. Cleveland, though, would prefer not to give up a draft pick after using a second-round one on wide receiver Josh Gordon in last year's supplemental draft. And it doesn't sound as though the Browns intend to draft a quarterback like Geno Smith with the No. 6 overall pick. The Browns can provide some competition for Weeden by signing the Dolphins' Matt Moore or the Saints' Chase Daniel out of a weak free-agent class.

Pittsburgh Steelers: As long as Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, there's no question that he's the starting quarterback. Roethlisberger, though, hasn't played a full season since 2008, which puts more emphasis on the backup position. This could be the year when the Steelers look for a younger quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds to develop. Zac Dysert, a Miami (Ohio) quarterback like Roethlisberger, is expected to go in the fourth or fifth round. The Steelers went with more experienced backups last season in Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, both of whom are free agents and whose returns are uncertain. Batch is 38 years old, and Leftwich is not durable. Even if there was a better free-agent backup available, Pittsburgh doesn't have the cap room to sign him.
Here's what the Pittsburgh Steelers should do with their prime free agents. The NFL free-agency period begins March 12.

SHOULD RE-SIGN

ILB Larry Foote, QB Charlie Batch, G/C Doug Legursky, S Will Allen.

The Steelers need to bring back Foote because they can't be confident that Stevenson Sylvester can start and they can't be certain Sean Spence can move into a starting role this season after last year's severe knee injury. The other names on this list won't have fans rushing to make reservations for the Super Bowl, but they are valuable to the team's depth. The Steelers won't go with two aging backup quarterbacks like last year, and Batch earned the right to stay. Legursky is the backup to Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who has dealt with injuries the past two seasons, and he can also play guard. The Steelers were fortunate to have Allen after Ryan Mundy flopped in a starting role.

SHOULD LET WALK

WR Mike Wallace, NT Casey Hampton, RB Rashard Mendenhall, OT Max Starks, G/T Ramon Foster, QB Byron Leftwich, S Ryan Mundy and WR Plaxico Burress.

The Steelers don't have enough salary-cap room to keep Wallace, and he's not a good fit for Todd Haley's style of offense. And even though there have been reports that the Steelers have had contract talks with Mendenhall, Pittsburgh needs to cut ties with him. His play has declined the past two seasons, and it's time for the Steelers to get a younger back in the draft.

It would be more accurate to put Hampton and Foster in the "Have to let walk" category because the Steelers don't have the cap room to retain them. Hampton showed last season that he has more left than originally believed. The Steelers need to get younger on the offensive line and at backup quarterback, which means the end for Starks and Leftwich, respectively.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

CB Keenan Lewis. There's no question that Lewis is the Steelers' top priority in free agency. But it's going to be difficult to keep him considering he's a rising player at a coveted position and the Steelers are cap-strapped again. Lewis stepped up in his first season as a starter, leading the AFC with 23 passes broken up. If the Steelers can't keep Lewis, they'll go with Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen as starters with Curtis Brown as the nickel back.
Like most Fridays during the season, I'll be giving my prediction later this morning. It's a very special Super Bowl edition of it. One of the staples of the blog, The Final Word, has been pushed back to Saturday. Now, let's catch you up on the Ravens and the rest of the division in the Wake-up Call ...

RAVENS: On Wednesday, safety Ed Reed said he could "definitely" see himself playing for the Patriots. On Thursday, Reed clarified (or toned down, depending on your perspective) his comments. “Of course I want to stay in Baltimore,” Reed told The Boston Globe. “I was asked, would I play for Bill Belichick? Yes. What football players wouldn’t play for Coach Belichick? Will I be in New England? Most likely not. It’s just terrible that people get half the story. It’s even more bad when you hear the comments that they make towards you. But it comes with it, man.”

BENGALS: Not getting one pass thrown his way in the first half of the wild-card loss in Houston still irks wide receiver A.J. Green. "It’s tough in a big game and you're the go-to guy and you don’t get the ball in the first half; it's all frustrating," Green said, via the team's official website. "They had a game plan that had a matchup problem with (tight end) Jermaine (Gresham) and they felt like they could go to him. Things happen like that. All games aren't perfect. That's one thing we need to build on. We just need to capitalize. Not only getting me the ball, but just making some of the big plays."

STEELERS: Backup quarterback Charlie Batch won the Byron "Whizzer" White Award, one of the highest honors that the players' union gives one of its players. It recognizes a player who is as dedicated off the field as he is on it. Batch has raised more than $1.2 million to help children in his hometown of Homestead, Pa. "I've never done this for awards," Batch told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "You try to create better opportunities for kids, and to be rewarded for that is special. It's humbling."

BROWNS: Outside linebacker Scott Fujita believes too much is being made of the Browns' style of defense under new coordinator Ray Horton. "To me it's about trying to find a system that best suits the talent you have on the team," Fujita told The Plain Dealer. "If you have a general philosophy of being a 3-4, you can still toy around and do some kind of a hybrid, much like Arizona has done the last couple of years or Pittsburgh, where they keep a defensive lineman slanting and moving constantly." Fujita may not be playing for any defense next season. He is dealing with a potentially career-threatening neck injury.
Like every morning in the AFC North blog, here's your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones thinks his younger brother, Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, will play in the AFC Championship Game, but he hasn't gotten any inside information from him. Chandler Jones, who is second on New England with six sacks, was limited in practice Wednesday with an ankle injury. “He's not telling me anything,” Arthur Jones told The Baltimore Sun. “I think he’s going to be out there. He’s a hard worker, and I know he’s getting treatment on it hard.”

BENGALS: Bengals undrafted rookie linebacker Brandon Joiner was released Tuesday after serving nearly eight months of a three-year prison sentence, according to the Killeen (Texas) Daily Herald. Joiner, whose rights were retained by the Bengals, was indicted in May on two counts of aggravated robbery and one charge of felony drug possession. “The days just seemed like they slowed down. I swear they were 27-hour days,” Joiner said. “Getting up at 1 o’clock in the morning, staying in the cage until 5, 6 o’clock in the morning, being on the bus at seven. Then getting there (to a new unit), eating four peanut butter sandwiches a day, only one hot meal, no rec, no TV in some dorms. It’s been hectic, but just knowing I was coming home made it all worthwhile.”

STEELERS: The Steelers are open to drafting a quarterback earlier than the late rounds to provide a younger backup to Ben Roethlisberger, who missed three games this season with a sprained shoulder and dislocated rib. "We won't close the door on any position in any round," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "We can't." This past season, the Steelers went with Charlie Batch, 38, and Byron Leftwich, 33, as their backup quarterbacks.

BROWNS: The Browns will interview Redskins defensive-backs coach Raheem Morris for their defensive coordinator position, a source told The Plain Dealer. Morris was the head coach of the Buccaneers from 2009 to 2011, going 17-31 in his three seasons there. Under Morris, a banged-up Redskins secondary played a factor in Washington finishing 30th in pass defense. The Browns are expected to announce Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator Thursday.
When the Ravens' schedule was released in April, the stretch that stood out was seven Pro Bowl quarterbacks in the final eight games. The problem is, Baltimore hasn't been losing to Pro Bowl quarterbacks.

With a chance to clinch a playoff spot the past two weeks, the Ravens were stopped by Charlie Batch and Kirk Cousins. Baltimore couldn't celebrate another trip to the postseason because it failed to hold a fourth-quarter lead against a 37-year-old third-stringer (Batch) and a rookie fourth-round backup (Cousins).

The Ravens have a rich tradition of success on defense. Baltimore has ranked in the top 10 in defense for the past nine straight seasons (2003-11), which is tied for the third-longest streak since the 1970 merger. Now, this banged-up defense can't keep the likes of Batch or Cousins out of the end zone when the game is on the line.

A week ago, Batch was 10-for-11 for 105 yards and one touchdown in rallying the Steelers from seven points down in the fourth quarter. On Sunday, Cousins replaced an injured Robert Griffin III to tie the game with 29 seconds remaining when he hit Pierre Garcon for an 11-yard touchdown pass and ran in the two-point conversion.

To be fair, the Ravens are dealing with several injuries on defense, especially at linebacker and cornerback. Their team leader (Ray Lewis), best defensive player (Terrell Suggs) and top cornerback (Lardarius Webb) didn't play. Dannell Ellerbe, who replaced Lewis in the starting lineup, was out with an ankle injury. So, when Jameel McClain left in the third quarter with a neck injury, Baltimore was down to undrafted free agents Albert McClellan and Josh Bynes at inside linebacker. The Ravens are also starting special-teams ace Corey Graham at cornerback because of injuries to Webb and Jimmy Smith.

Are the Ravens in trouble? “No, man. We ain't in trouble,” safety Ed Reed told reporters after the game. “Next question.”

OK, what about this question: How can the Ravens beat Peyton Manning when they can't beat Batch and Cousins? Manning, who plays the Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday, has won eight straight meetings against the Ravens. The last time Baltimore beat Manning was December 2001.

AFC North quarterback report card

December, 4, 2012
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A look at how the quarterbacks around the division fared in Week 13:

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

Stats: 25-for-39 (64.1 percent) for 211 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Comment: Dalton once again had problems with interceptions after not throwing one in his previous three games. He also had another one returned for a touchdown, the result of a poor decision by Dalton. But Dalton bounced back in the clutch, scoring the winning touchdown on a 6-yard run.

QBR: 60.7 (16h among quarterbacks this week)

Grade: C-plus




Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns

Stats: 25-for-36 (69.4 percent) for 364 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Comment: Two throws he would want back are the two interceptions deep in Raiders territory. But he was on target for most of the game and hit Josh Gordon in stride on that deep 44-yard touchdown toss. You could see more confidence from Weeden when he's playing one of the league's worst pass defenses compared to the NFL's top-ranked one in Pittsburgh. His 364 yards passing were a career high.

QBR: 75.4 (12th among quarterbacks this week)

Grade: B




Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

Stats: 16-for-34 (47.1 percent) for 188 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Comment: Flacco usually plays his best at home, but that wasn't the case Sunday. He was wild on a lot of his throws and he had no pocket awareness. The interception was the result of Flacco just throwing the ball up for grabs around midfield. His biggest mistake was not protecting the ball when getting sacked by James Harrison. That fourth-quarter fumble cost the Ravens the game. Flacco escapes an "F" because of his touchdown throw to Anquan Boldin, his only memorable good pass of the game.

QBR: 23.7 (26h among quarterbacks this week)

Grade: D




Charlie Batch, Pittsburgh Steelers

Stats: 25-for-36 (69.4 percent) for 276 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Comment: Batch was far from perfect. His interception in the end zone could've led to a loss if not for Harrison's forced turnover. But Batch stepped up big for the Steelers in the second half, from throwing a block on a touchdown run to being near-perfect in the fourth quarter. On the drive that set up the winning field goal, Batch was 5-for-5 for 45 yards. You couldn't ask much more from a backup quarterback.

QBR: 53.1 (19th among quarterbacks this week)

Grade: B-plus
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn't say Ben Roethlisberger would return as starting quarterback on Sunday, but he seemed more optimistic than last week that it could happen.

“Ben is getting closer to healthy,” Tomlin said at his Tuesday news conference. “He threw [Monday] and I guess it could be described as successful. We’ll see what it looks like on the football field [Wednesday]. He will be given an opportunity to prove that he is healthy and we will let that progress go from there.”

Like last week, Tomlin said the team is proceeding as if Charlie Batch would start. But that plan could obviously change.

“We’ll focus on the two healthy quarterbacks, and the one guy who is trying to prove his health is Ben," Tomlin said. "We’ll see where the week takes us, particularly tomorrow. Once we get out there tomorrow it will provide some clarity for us and we will be able to make firm decisions. As we sit here today and put together a game plan we are doing so in the same manner we did a week ago in that Charlie is our guy and we are building our plan around what he is capable of and we’ll see what Ben can prove to us in the early part of the week from a health standpoint.”

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is trying to get ready to play Sunday against the Chargers, which would provide a major boost for a team in the thick of a playoff hunt.

This isn't to diminish the surprisingly strong effort by backup Charlie Batch on Sunday. The Steelers are simply a better offense, and a more consistent one, with Roethlisberger under center.

The knee-jerk reaction from Sunday is not to rush back Roethlisberger because Batch demonstrated that he could win games, even one in a hostile environment like Baltimore. But Roethlisberger won't come back before he's ready. He's learned from last year when he played injured in San Francisco and hurt the Steelers. There's more trust in Roethlisberger that he'll make the right decision on when to return.

Roethlisberger's return would be timely. There's little margin for error for the Steelers these days. They're tied for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC with the Bengals, who have won four straight. A lot will be riding on the Steelers-Bengals game on Dec. 23, but that's only if the Steelers beat the Chargers and Cowboys over the next two weeks.

Roethlisberger has been working to improve his strength and range of motion as the soreness in his shoulder and chest have diminished, a source told ESPN's Ed Werder. How Roethlisberger practices Wednesday and Thursday will ultimately determine whether he plays against San Diego.

While there is more confidence that Batch can get the job done now, there is still a level of uncertainty. You don't know if you're going to get the Batch who threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter in Cleveland or the one who led the fourth-quarter comeback in Baltimore.

If Roethlisberger can come back Sunday, the Steelers' grip on that final playoff spot would get stronger.

Upon Further Review: Steelers

December, 3, 2012
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Revisiting the Pittsburgh Steelers' 23-20 win at the Baltimore Ravens:

The reason why a Steelers backup quarterback beat the Ravens just two weeks after another Steelers backup lost to them is how they handled pressure.

Charlie Batch completed 8 of 9 passes for 87 yards and one touchdown when facing five or more pass-rushers against Baltimore, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That was different than a couple of weeks ago when Byron Leftwich struggled against the Ravens' blitz. He was 2-of-7 for 21 yards and no touchdowns against the Baltimore pressure.

It's surprising that the Ravens didn't come after Batch, who lacks mobility, more in this game. They blitzed on 23 percent of the Steelers' drop-backs. But the Steelers' reshuffled offensive line did a better job than expected in protecting Batch.

That increased time in the pocket helped Batch throw downfield. In the second half, Batch was 5-of-7 for 130 yards on passes thrown at least 15 yards downfield.

STAT THAT STICKS: 5 -- Game-winners for Shaun Suisham in his career, including three with the Steelers. Suisham is 24-of-25 (.960) this season, including 9-for-9 in between 40 and 49 yards. Last season, he was 6-of-11 from that distance.

OVERHEARD: “The big thing is, I appreciate the fact that they didn’t let go of the rope. They’re fighting and potentially frustrating things happen. We gained a turnover, we give it back. And I take responsibility for that, on the reverse pass. I’m trying to search for a significant play. But more than anything, they showed their mettle because they didn’t let those types of circumstances get them down. They were angry, but it didn’t steal their love for the play of the game. They played extremely hard and when you do that, you’re going to get opportunities and they created some.” -- Head coach Mike Tomlin

WHAT'S NEXT: The Steelers (7-5) play host to the Chargers (4-8), who are 0-2 in the Eastern Time Zone this season. San Diego has lost at Cleveland and at Tampa Bay.
It's a strange Sunday in the AFC North when the only team that loses in the division is the one leading the division. The Ravens watched their cushion in the AFC North shrink after the Steelers beat them with Charlie Batch and the two Ohio teams (Bengals and Browns) won on the West Coast.

Baltimore (9-3) now has a two-game lead over the Steelers and Bengals, both 7-5, with four weeks remaining. Is there any way these teams could catch the Ravens? "I'm sure they're probably going to win the division," Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said. "I can't see them losing two more games."

Foote may not want to give the title to the Ravens so quickly. If Baltimore loses at Washington on Sunday, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati can close to within one game by winning. The Steelers play host to the Chargers, and the Bengals are home against Dallas.

It's far from an easy road remaining for the Ravens. After the road game at Washington (5-6), the Ravens' final three games are: home against Denver (9-3) and the New York Giants (7-4) before playing at Cincinnati.

Here's what the local columnists are saying about their teams ...

RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston called the Ravens' loss to the Steelers an embarrassing one to an ancient quarterback. "Some say Charlie Batch was was playing in the NFL when there were no facemasks on helmets," Preston wrote. "There is speculation he has filed for Medicare and Social Security. But Batch, 37, outperformed his much younger and sometimes more talented counterpart Joe Flacco."

STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook believes it was defensive deja vu for the Steelers. "Late in the 2010 season, safety Troy Polamalu's fourth-quarter strip-sack of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco brought the Steelers back from the dead in a 13-10 win that led to the AFC North Division title and a trip to Super Bowl XLV," Cook wrote. "Sunday night, James Harrison's fourth-quarter strip-sack of Flacco led to the Steelers' tying touchdown and a win that left them with a 7-5 record, one spot ahead of Cincinnati for the final wild-card spot in the AFC."

BENGALS: The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty thinks the Bengals showed something by winning despite turning the ball over three times. "The Bengals are learning what good teams know: You can win if you don’t play your best, so long as you keep your wits and play a little better than the other guys," Daugherty wrote. "You can win four in a row after losing four in a row, and shove your way back into the playoff photo."

BROWNS: The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto feels the Browns showed their true grit in ending the 12-game road losing streak. "Just like last week's 20-14 victory over Pittsburgh was hardly a football Picasso, this also was a game far more about grit than being great," Pluto wrote. "But it's a victory. It's a winning streak. It's a reason to keep watching the men in the orange helmets. Progress isn't always pretty or steady. But on this Sunday afternoon, when I bet Browns fans had a sad, sinking feeling in the second half, their favorite team gave them a reason to smile."

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