Steelers rally for 24-22 win; Roethlisberger hurt
Steelers await medical report to determine cost of victory
SAN DIEGO -- The Steelers pulled out an electrifying victory last night that was dulled somewhat when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger left the game with a knee injury in the final 65 seconds.
Jeff Reed kicked a 40-yard field goal with six seconds left to lift the Steelers to a 24-22 victory.
Roethlisberger limped off the field with 1:05 to go after guiding the Steelers to within striking distance of the winning score. Preliminary indications were he had a hyperextended left knee. He will have an MRI today in Pittsburgh.
"I'll be all right," said Roethlisberger, as he pulled on a pair of bluejeans over the knee, which was not wrapped. "You know me, I'm tough."
He had just completed a 9-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El to the Chargers' 29 when defensive end Luis Castillo rolled into his knee.
Charlie Batch replaced Roethlisberger and handed off three consecutive times to Jerome Bettis, who gained 21 yards on seven carries on the winning drive. He got the ball to the 22 and Reed got the call for the attempt.
"He came through big for us," coach Bill Cowher said of Bettis, who led the Steelers with 54 yards on 17 carries and scored a touchdown in his first action of the season.
Cowher told his team yesterday morning to expect "a battle of wills," and the game and atmosphere inside Qualcomm Stadium was all of that.
Chargers fans waved white towels, thousands of Steelers fans twirled their gold Terrible Towels and four black Navy helicopters from the city where Top Gun was filmed buzzed over the largest crowd in San Diego football history.
The electricity pulsated throughout the first Monday night game in nine years in San Diego, and the teams on the field responded in kind.
"That was a classic football game," Cowher said. "I think we were just fortunate enough that we had the ball last."
The Steelers raised their record to 3-1 and made amends after losing their previous game to the Patriots on a last-second field goal. The Chargers fell to 2-3 before their largest crowd ever, 68,537.
Roethlisberger ran for one touchdown on a 7-yard draw play and threw for another of 16 yards to rookie tight end Heath Miller. Bettis, playing in his first game after returning from a preseason calf injury, scored from the 1. The Chargers scored on Drew Brees' 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Antonio Gates, LaDainian Tomlinson's 2-yard run and Nate Kaeding field goals of 34, 32 and 41 yards.
Roethlisberger completed 17 of 26 passes for 225 yards and remained without an interception for the season.
He did lose one fumble that appeared to be an incomplete pass. In the first quarter, San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman came from his left outside and hit Roethlisberger as he was throwing. The Chargers recovered the loose ball, and the officials ruled it was a fumble. Replays seemed to show Roethlisberger's arm coming forward but Steelers coach Bill Cowher didn't challenge the call.
Their next drive would be more eventful.
The Steelers moved from their 16 to the 36 on a pass interference call, then up stepped Hines Ward. He caught a 12-yard pass and three plays later scored on a 47-yard pass that was overturned by replay. Ward fell down after gaining 14 yards but the officials ruled he was not touched. Replay showed that cornerback Quentin Jammer got a piece of Ward's right foot with his left hand.
Roethlisberger came right back for a 21-yard pass to Randle El. Roethlisberger then set up in the shotgun formation on third down and ran a quarterback draw up the middle behind the blocks of Cedrick Wilson and Verron Haynes for a 7-yard gain and a 7-0 lead with 9:14 left in the first half.
The Chargers put together a drive of their own that linebacker James Harrison rudely ended with an interception and 25-yard return.
The Steelers made that pay off when they moved 41 yards on seven plays to score. Bettis dived off left guard from the 1 for the touchdown that put the Steelers in front, 14-0, with 1:37 left.
That's when the Steelers' kick coverage team had problems. Their troubles against the New England Patriots continued two weeks later when rookie Darren Sproles returned Reed's kick 48 yards to the Steelers' 47.
The Chargers picked up 36 yards in one hunk when Eric Parker caught a 23-yard pass and another 13 was tacked on when safety Chris Hope brought him down by the facemask. Gates then beat cornerback Ike Taylor on an 11-yard touchdown pass with 34 seconds left that cut the lead to 14-7.
Early in the third quarter, the special teams seemed to make amends when Chidi Iwuoma recovered a muffed punt return by Sproles, who had called for a fair catch, at the Chargers' 22. However, officials huddled for several minutes and ruled that Iwuoma did not give Sproles an unmolested chance to catch the ball. Cowher later concurred with their judgment.
Instead of possibly trailing by two touchdowns, San Diego used its second chance to close to 14-10 on Kaeding's 34-yard field goal.
Kaeding cut that lead to 14-13 when he kicked a 32-yard field goal on San Diego's next drive.
Cowher's teams had a 92-1-1 record when leading by more than 10 points, a .984 percentage that is the best of any coach in NFL history.
San Diego threatened to lower that number when they took a 16-14 lead with 11:41 remaining on Kaeding's third field goal, from 41 yards.
It lasted barely a minute.
Quincy Morgan returned the Chargers' kickoff 37 yards to the 38 and then Roethlisberger threw three pitches to strike out the Chargers. His first two went to Ward for 33 and 13 yards, and his third went to Miller for 16 yards and a touchdown. Three plays, 62 yards in 1:03 and just like that the Steelers were back in front, 21-16.
However, the Chargers weren't finished. They scored on their next series after another decent return against the Steelers started them on their 38. They reclaimed the lead on Tomlinson's 2-yard run with 4:42 left. The Steelers stuffed Tomlinson on the 2-point conversion try and San Diego went ahead, 22-21.
"I thought that was huge," Cowher said of the two-point stop.
That's when the Steelers mounted their winning drive, after Wilson returned the kickoff 29 yards to the 38 with 4:36 to go.
Batch prepares to take the reins - Injuries thrust backup into spotlight
SAN DIEGO -- At the end of what was a tumultuous weekend for Steelers quarterbacks, Charlie Batch stood in the cramped locker room at Qualcomm Stadium, talking about the opportunity that appears to be presented him and embracing the chance to lead an offense that pulled out a 24-22 victory last night against the San Diego Chargers.
Sitting next to him, his head bowed, crutches propped on the locker stall, was Ben Roethlisberger, the person who should have been celebrating after the pulsating victory but instead looked as though he had thrown three interceptions in a lopsided loss.
To be sure, the game ended the way Roethlisberger intended -- with the Steelers methodically driving 40 yards for Jeff Reed's winning field goal with :06 remaining. But his contribution, which was significant for most of this Monday Night Football mayhem, was cut short when his left knee was hyperextended with 1:05 remaining.
That left Batch, an eight-year veteran who almost didn't make the 53-man roster, as the starting quarterback for a home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, and maybe for at least the next couple of games after that.
"Right now, all preliminary indications are that way," Batch said.
The early prognosis on Roethlisberger is this: His knee was hypextended when he threw a 9-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El and Chargers defensive end Luis Castillo rolled into his left leg as it was planted on the turf.
Roethlisberger was scheduled to have a magnetic resonance imaging exam this morning, shortly after the team's chartered plane arrived in Pittsburgh. The Steelers did not make any official comment on Roethlisberger.
"People told me it didn't look good," coach Bill Cowher said. "It looked bad from what I saw on the [stadium video] screen."
The injury to Roethlisberger came just three days after Tommy Maddox, the No. 2 quarterback, sustained a calf injury in practice Friday -- an injury similar to the one that sidelined Jerome Bettis for nearly five weeks.
Just like that, Batch has been elevated to starting quarterback, a role he hasn't assumed since he was with the Detroit Lions in 2001. Since coming to the Steelers in 2002, Batch had appeared in just three regular-season games in three years before last night. In that time, he attempted only eight passes, completing four, for 47 yards.
What's more, until last night, he hadn't appeared in a regular-season game since Nov. 30, 2003. Batch, a Steel Valley High School graduate, missed the entire 2004 season when he had season-ending knee surgery in training camp.
"It's been a while," Batch said. "I'm excited for the opportunity.
"You always want to play. But you never want to wish injury on anybody. Under the circumstances, the weekend has been crazy. Tommy gets hurt and then Ben goes down."
Indeed, the three-deep quarterback position -- probably the best in the National Football League -- will be put to the test immediately. And it will be left to Batch, who earned a spot on the roster with a good showing in the final preseason game, a 21-17 victory in Carolina in which he threw the winning 45-yard touchdown pass to Sean Morey with 54 seconds remaining.
Batch didn't need any such heroics against the Chargers. All he had to do was hand the ball on three consecutive plays to Jerome Bettis to set up Reed's winning field goal.
When he came into the game, the Steelers were faced with second-and-1 at the Chargers' 29. His job was easy.
"At that point, you're just trying to get the guys fired up," Batch said. "But, at that point, I didn't have to say much."
Bettis did that himself, carrying seven times and grinding out 21 tough yards on the winning drive.
Roethlisberger supplied all the heroics earlier, making big plays with his arm and feet and displaying a calm demeanor that never got frazzled amid the white-waving towels and din that engulfed Qualcomm Stadium.
He completed 17 of 26 passes for 225 yards and a sweet 16-yard touchdown to tight end Heath Miller. He did not throw an interception for the fourth game in a row, leaving him and Oakland's Kerry Collins as the only NFL quarterbacks without an interception in 2005.
And his passer rating -- the league's best coming into the game -- was 105.4, the third time in four games it has been over 100.
Now, though, the offense gets turned over to Batch.
"You don't know when your number is going to be called," Batch said. "And when it is, you got to be ready."
Is Batch ready?
"I'm ready," he said. "I've waited a while for this."
Steelers Notebook: Injured Maddox to miss 3-4 games
SAN DIEGO -- Quarterback Tommy Maddox did not travel with the Steelers to the West Coast and will miss the next three to four games.
Maddox pulled a calf muscle in practice on Friday and was listed as doubtful on the Steelers' injury report that day. Maddox's injury is similar to the one that knocked Jerome Bettis out of the third preseason game until he returned to play here last night.
Charlie Batch, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, moved up to No. 2 behind Ben Roethlisberger.
Batch, who started his first four seasons in the league with Detroit, has not thrown a pass in a regular-season game since Nov. 30, 2003, when he threw two in Cincinnati. Since joining the Steelers as a free agent in 2002, Batch has thrown just eight passes, all in the 2003 season. He has played in only three games with them, all in 2003.
Duce is out
Halfback Duce Staley did not dress last night as coach Bill Cowher opted to make Bettis the backup to starter Willie Parker. Verron Haynes also dressed and was used as the third-down back.
Staley had surgery to repair the lateral meniscus in a knee Aug. 8. He has practiced the past four weeks and dressed for the first time against the Patriots on Sept. 25. He was involved in three plays but had no carries. Staley has not had a carry in any type of game since he ran 10 times for 26 yards against the New England Patriots in the Jan. 23 AFC championship game.
Bettis played for the first time since he had a pulled calf muscle in the third preseason game. He has practiced the past two weeks.
The rest of the inactive list for the Steelers: Maddox, CB Bryant McFadden, LB Clark Haggans, LB Rian Wallace, G Chris Kemoeatu, OT Trai Essex and WR Nate Washington.
San Diego inactives: QB Cleo Lemon, FS Jerry Wilson, C Scott Mruczkowski, G Toniu Fonoti, WR Vincent Jackson, TE Ryan Krause, LB Marques Harris and DE Dave Ball.
Hines Ward, listed as questionable all last week with a hamstring injury, made his 83rd consecutive start and continued his record of never missing an NFL game. Ward looked as if the injury were nagging him in pregame warm-ups.
Starting last night with the Steelers, the Chargers play three consecutive games against well-rested opponents. As with the Steelers, their next two foes, Oakland and Philadelphia, each have off the week before they play the Chargers, both at home. Starting with the Steelers, four of the Chargers' next five games come against teams with byes the week before they play them.
"Sometimes, a bye can be bad for you,'' Chargers linebacker Donnie Edwards told the San Diego Union Tribune. "You start to overanalyze the opponent and drive yourself nuts. When you have too much time to [prepare], sometimes it's counterproductive.''
Not Miller time
Rookie tight end Heath Miller did not start for the first time in his NFL career. The Steelers had opened the first three games with two tight ends and no fullback. Last night, they started with one tight end, Jerame Tuman, and fullback Dan Kreider got his first start of the season. ... WR Cedrick Wilson replaced CB Ike Taylor as a deep kickoff return man, next to CB Ricardo Colclough. ... The Chargers opened the game with a spread offense and no one in the backfield and without taking a huddle. Drew Brees completed a 5-yard pass on first down to Keenan McCardell, then overthrew on second down and Joey Porter sacked him on third downs. ... Among the celebrities attending last night's game were California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, actors Ray Romano and Jim Belushi, golfer Phil Mickelson and baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield.