Published November 20, 2014
Turns out the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't have to wait for Ben Roethlisberger to return to get their offense on track.
Charlie Batch and a trip back to the city where they won their most recent Super Bowl title worked just fine Sunday.
Batch threw for 186 yards and two long touchdowns to Mike Wallace in the 35-year-old quarterback's first start in nearly three years, helping the Steelers remain unbeaten with a 38-13 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Wallace scored on catches of 46 and 41 yards during a stretch where Pittsburgh, which did little offensively the first two weeks of the season, scored on four straight possessions to build a 28-6 halftime lead.
Tampa Bay's Aqib Talib intercepted Batch's first pass of the day to set up a 40-yard field goal, but Bucs fans — seemingly lost in the sea of gold-clad Steeler supporters who gave Raymond James Stadium the look and feel of Heinz Field — had little to cheer about the rest of the way.
The Steelers improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2007, despite playing without Roethlisberger, who's serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.
Dennis Dixon started the previous two games, but was lost to a knee injury last week, creating an opportunity for Batch.
Josh Freeman led one long drive for Tampa Bay (2-1), however the nearly nine-minute drive only produced a second-quarter field goal. The Buccaneers did little the rest of the day against a defense that kept them out of the end zone until the closing minutes.
Batch victimized rookie Cody Grimm, starting in place of suspended safety Tanard Jackson, on his first TD pass to Wallace. Wallace, who had three catches for 100 yards, hauled in a pass that Talib tipped in the right corner of the end zone for his second score.
The Steelers' rejuvenated running game did its part, too, with Rashard Mendenhall rushing for a season-high 143 yards and one touchdown. The defense added two more turnovers to the NFL-leading eight it took into the game, with 285-pound end Brett Keisel returning an interception 79 yards for Pittsburgh's last TD.
Freeman completed 20 of 31 passes for 184 yards and one interception before leaving the game with the Steelers up by 32 points in the fourth quarter. Backup Josh Johnson led a late scoring drive, with rookie LeGarrette Blount covering the final yard on fourth-and-goal.
Pittsburgh threw a league-low 43 passes in its first two games, beating Atlanta and Tennessee primarily by running the ball and playing ballhawking defense. The Steelers forced seven turnovers against the Titans and limited Chris Johnson to 34 yards rushing on 16 attempts, ending his streak of 12 consecutive 100-yard games.
Batch mixed the pass with the run to keep the Bucs on their heels, even reverting to the early days on his 13-year career when he scrambled up the middle for 24 yards on third-and-6 to prolong a 67-yard drive that Mendenhall capped with his 3-yard TD run for a 14-6 lead.
Batch completed 11 of his first 14 passes, with two of the incompletions coming on a drop and a spike to stop the clock before throwing a 9-yard TD pass to Hines Ward just before halftime. The Steelers, who had 201 yards rushing, only threw three times in the second half.