37-year-old Batch still inspires confidence in Steelers' teammates

| Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012, 11:26 p.m.

Charlie Batch is a couple of days away from becoming the oldest quarterback in Steelers history to start a game, take a snap and, he hopes, throw a pass.

He's the backup to the backup, the reliever for the ace relief pitcher. It's a role he has played for years but, of course, never when he's been so up there in years. In 13 more days, he will be 38.

Not even Bobby Layne, Ed Brown or Mike Tomczak were so old when they slipped under center for the Steelers. Batch is nearing a prehistoric age by NFL standards. He's even closing in on Brett Favre territory.

“I'm doing it for the 38-year-olds,” he joked.

His teammates believe in his ability to manage a game, run Todd Haley's quick-throw offense, get the offense lined up correctly — especially a newly arrived old-timer named Plaxico Burress — and keep mistakes to a minimum. His calm demeanor and all-business attitude are major assets; the confidence he inspires is unquestioned.

“He asks the most questions I've ever heard anybody ask in a meeting,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “He definitely knows the offense, and that's why I'm excited about the offense.”

Batch's rationale for preparing like he's the starter, even when he's been No. 3 on the depth chart?

“You just never know ...” he said.

You never know, indeed.

“Right now, I'm the guy, but there's no telling how long I will have this position,” he said. “One week? Two? Three?”

Batch can't zip the ball the way he could when he was 24 and the Lions threw a $10 million contract at him. The big-armed but more fragile Byron Leftwich, not the more-tenured Batch, has been Ben Roethlisberger's primary backup.

But Roethlisberger and Leftwich are down with rib and shoulder injuries, and their returns are uncertain. So it's all up to Batch against Cleveland on Sunday to try to win a game the Steelers can't afford to lose but could lose to the Browns (2-8), who have five losses by a touchdown or less.

Batch has come through time and again. He stepped in when Roethlisberger was suspended for four games in 2010 by going 1-1 as a starter and winning at Tennessee when Dennis Dixon was hurt early in the game. He also beat St. Louis last season, Miami in 2006 and Green Bay and Cleveland during the Steelers' Super Bowl run in '05.

“When you put in a veteran quarterback for a short amount of time, a game or a month, they tend to play extremely well,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said.

It can be argued this is Batch's most important start in his 11 Steelers seasons.

Lose in Cleveland — and the Browns took the Cowboys to overtime Sunday in Dallas — and the Steelers (6-4) might be in a real mess playoff-wise heading into their rematch against the Ravens (8-2) on Dec. 2.

“I need to help this team get a win,” Batch said. “That's what we need.”

Who better than Batch to settle down an offense, craft a few scoring drives, run the offense efficiently and make sure the wheels don't come off?

“He's very smart; he takes pride in the details,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “He's done it in previous seasons, and I expect him to do it this week also.”

To do so, Batch must dodge — on his aging legs — a disruptive Browns pass rush that has 27 sacks (the Steelers have only 18). He also needs to turn back the clock, ignore the calendar and, for one more day, be the strong-armed, high-energy quarterback who led Steel Valley High to a PIAA title 21 years ago.

“I'm always excited (to play),” Batch said. “These opportunities don't come often anymore, and here I am, getting up there in years. When you have an opportunity like this, you cherish it.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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