PITTSBURGH — Charlie Batch paused last week when he was asked if he could make the same throws he did a decade ago.
No! the soon-to-be 38-year-old Steelers backup quarterback said before bursting into laughter.
Turns out, he was right.
Passes fluttering in the late fall wind, Batch tossed three interceptions — two in the fourth quarter — in Sunday's comically bad 20-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Pittsburgh turned it over eight times, committed nine penalties and scored two measly touchdowns against a team it had beaten in 16 of the last 17 meetings.
I put the game on my shoulders to try and go down and put my team in the end zone and I wasn't able to do that, Batch said.
The loss is hardly on Batch's shoulders — not when the Steelers (6-5) fumbled the ball away five times — but with the Browns daring Batch to beat them with his arm by stacking the line of scrimmage to shut down the running game, Batch's ineffectiveness showcased just how ramshackle the Steelers can look without injured starter Ben Roethlisberger under center.
It's uncertain if Roethlisberger's sprained right (throwing) shoulder will be ready to go next Sunday at rival Baltimore (9-2). What is certain? The Steelers — arguably the hottest team in the league after a road victory over the New York Giants three weeks ago — have run out of any wiggle room if they want to make the playoffs.
The Steelers are tied with Cincinnati for the AFC's second wild card spot with five weeks remaining in the regular season. Pittsburgh's remaining schedule includes a trip to Dallas and visits from San Diego and the Bengals in addition to Sunday's journey to Baltimore, where the Steelers have won just twice in their last nine visits.
It leaves us in a little bit of a hole, linebacker James Harrison said.
One that could be particularly difficult to crawl out of if Roethlisberger doesn't return soon. The Steelers have scored just two offensive touchdowns in the 10-plus quarters since he went down in the third quarter of a 16-13 overtime win against the Chiefs on Nov. 12.
Batch and fellow backup Byron Leftwich — out indefinitely with fractured ribs — have been rusty and the three-pronged rushing attack has gone nowhere. Coach Mike Tomlin insists there's no need to pick a feature back among Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, saying he has confidence in all three.