BALTIMORE — Because there’s still some life in the 37-year-old arm of Charlie Batch, the Pittsburgh Steelers remain alive in the AFC North.
Batch directed a 61-yard drive in the closing minutes and Shaun Suisham kicked a 42-yard field goal as time expired to give the Steelers a 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
Playing without injured Ben Roethlisberger for a third straight week, the Steelers turned to Batch for the second game in a row. The 15-year veteran went 25 for 36 for 276 yards, threw a touchdown and rallied the Steelers in a must-win game against their hated division rivals.
“This is big. It was another opportunity for me to come out here and start, which is rare right now,” said Batch, who was elevated to the top of the depth chart after backup Byron Leftwich was injured against Baltimore two weeks ago
“To be able to go on the road and do something that nobody outside of our locker room thought that we could do is big,” Batch said. .
Especially after Batch and the Steelers committed eight turnovers last week in a loss to Cleveland.
“I knew going into it that I had to play better,” Batch said. “I had to go out there and lead this offense the way that I know I can. I felt the receivers did a great job of getting open, the offensive line did a great job of protecting. I was really able to set my feet and just play ball and have fun.”
“Big necessary win for us tonight in a hostile environment. We don’t take that lightly,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
Pittsburgh (7-5) snapped a two-game losing streak and kept alive its slim hopes of overtaking Baltimore (9-3) in the AFC North. The teams have split their games this season, with each winning by three points.
Seven of the last eight regular-season games between the teams have been decided by that same margin.
“That was a typical Pittsburgh-Baltimore game,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s amazing how it works out that way.
Pittsburgh trailed 13-3 in the first half and 20-13 in the fourth quarter before coming back. Batch missed a wide open Mike Wallace in the end zone near the end of the first half, but the cagey quarterback more than made up for it after halftime.
The Ravens could have clinched a playoff berth with a victory. Instead, Baltimore had its 15-game home winning streak snapped and also lost for the first time in 13 games against division foes. Baltimore’s last defeat at home was against Pittsburgh in December 2010.
“This game didn’t determine the AFC North. We still can go ahead and win the division,” said running back Ray Rice, who ran for 78 yards in only 12 carries. “We’ll go ahead and try to get over this loss.”
Batch outplayed Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, who went 16 for 34 for 188 yards and fueled Pittsburgh’s comeback by losing a fumble in the fourth quarter.
“I think we missed a couple of opportunities early to really take a hold of this game even more,” Flacco said. “I thought we could have put up 30 or 40 points today and we didn’t. I think that’s a reflection that we hurt ourselves.”
The Steelers gave the ball away three times. The Ravens converted two of the takeaways into touchdowns, and the third — a leaping interception by Ed Reed in the end zone — kept a 20-13 lead intact with 10:59 left.
Pittsburgh got the ball back, however, when James Harrison forced a fumble by Flacco at the 27.
“Guy came around hit my wrist and hit the ball and just got it out,” Flacco said. “I wish I could have held on but wasn’t able to.”
Batch threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller to tie it with 7:24 to go.
The next time Pittsburgh got the ball back, Batch showed his poise with a beat-the-clock march. The key play in the final drive was a 15-yard completion to Wallace on a third-and-7.
After generating only 93 yards in offense in the first half, the Steelers opened the third quarter with a 78-yard touchdown drive to pull even at 13. Batch threw a 43-yard pass to Miller before Jonathan Dwyer scored on a 16-yard run.
Later in the quarter, Batch connected with Emmanuel Sanders near midfield with no defender in sight. But Sanders inexplicably lost his grip on the football after taking two steps, and the Ravens recovered on the Baltimore 37.
The Ravens turned the miscue into a 20-13 lead. Flacco completed a 19-yard pass to Dennis Pitta before Rice took a handoff, veered right, then broke left and outside for a 34-yard score.
The bickering between these two familiar foes began with the opening kickoff, when several players had to be separated after Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones downed the ball for a touchback.
With the Ravens up 6-3, Flacco threw an up-for-grabs floater that was intercepted by Ryan Clark near midfield. Pittsburgh gave it right back, though, when wide receiver Antonio Brown took a handoff and ran left before throwing a pass across the field that was picked off by Corey Graham.
Baltimore didn’t waste the gift. Flacco connected twice with Anquan Boldin during a four-play, 69-yard drive, including a 31-yard touchdown throw just beyond Allen’s reach to make it 13-3.
NOTES: Pittsburgh CB Ike Taylor hurt his right ankle in the first quarter and did not return. … Tomlin said FB Will Johnson “probably has a concussion.” … Brown has thrown two passes this season. The other one was incomplete. … The crowd of 71,442 was the second-largest in Ravens history. … Rice’s 32nd rushing touchdown broke a second-place tie with Willis McGahee on the team’s career list.