Where to start after a game like that? The Pittsburgh Steelers continued their impressive start to the 2010 season with a 38-13 road victory over the previously undefeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As they've done the first two weeks, the Steelers turned in another noteworthy performance defensively. The difference today though was the offense finally came to life thanks to the stellar play by Charlie Batch.
* There's not enough superlatives to describe the play of Batch on Sunday. First, his final numbers:
12/17 186 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 5 rushes, 26 yards
Batch started off shaky, throwing an interception on his very first throw of the game. After the throw, my girlfriend said, 'oh no, down the hatch with Charlie Batch?!?' Not quite, Batch was exceptional from that point on, particularly in the 2nd quarter when he looked like a Pro Bowl caliber 25-year-old quarterback.
* Before pouring on the accolades to Batch and the other 52 players who contributed to the Steelers' Week 3 win, a word on Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers actually played a solid game. In fact, I'd argue that this game was much closer than the final score suggested, even with the Bucs' late 4th quarter touchdown. Tampa impressed me in a number of ways - their QB looks pretty darn good, they have dangerous playmakers on the outside, particularly in rookie Mike Williams, and their defense, despite giving up too many big plays, is going to be just fine moving forward, particularly against lesser teams.
The Buccaneers' drive that left me most impressed was their third series, which began at their own 21 yard line with 7:44 remaining in the 1st quarter. Batch had just found Mike Wallace for the first of their two touchdown connections on the afternoon. Tampa proceeded to march 75 yards on 15 plays all the way down to the Steelers' 5 yard line before stalling out and having to settle for a field goal. The drive consumed 8:45 seconds off the clock, and featured a nice balance of 8 runs and 7 passes. The FG brought Tampa Bay within a single point at 7-6 early on in the 2nd quarter.
That's when the Charlie Batch show began in earnest. On a 3rd and 6 from the Tampa 48, Batch wisely took off running after seeing no receivers open down the field. As Batch crossed the 1st down marker, he begins pointing out blocks to his receivers! At that point I was thinking, 'Slide, Charlie, slide!' But bottom line is the man was feeling it at that moment and was not only willing, but eager to absorb a hit as he fought for a few more yards. Charlie Batch!!! A 25-yard scamper on 3rd down to keep a drive alive and put the Steelers within striking range. Batch then followed that up with a gorgeous 18 yarder to Heath Miller in the seam. VERY impressive throw there. Perhaps one of his one or two best throws on the afternoon, actually. Miller rumbled down to the 3-yard line, and then Rashard Mednenhall took care of the rest, scoring from 3 yards out on the very next play.
The Steelers, perhaps feeding off the energy of Batch, forced a turnover on the next possession. The fumble recovery, quite frankly, was fairly lucky. On the 2nd and 20 play, Mike Williams coughed it up after picking up nine yards. James Farrior was credited with the forced fumble, and it caromed right into the arms of Ryan Clark. These are the types of breaks the Steelers have been getting through the first three games.
Batch then continued right where he left off, connecting with Mike Wallace on a 41-yard TD score. Again, a somewhat fortuitous bounce goes the Steelers way. Aqib Talib had his hand on the pass in the end zone, but couldn't get enough of the ball to deflect it away cleanly. Instead, the pass dropped right into the hands of Wallace in time for him to get both feet down for his second TD of the half. The score was now 21-6, and given how the Steelers' defense has looked, we all felt outstanding about Pittsburgh's chances to win heading into intermission.
* BIG shout-out to Bruce Arians for his gameplan today. Yes, Batch and Wallace made Arians look good in some respects. But even the biggest Arians' critic can't deny that he called a fabulous game on Sunday. We'll need a similarly well-conceived and executed plan next week against the Baltimore Ravens.
* You know what also makes an offensive coordinator look good? Great play upfront by the offensive line. The Steelers got just that. Batch had time to throw all day. He wasn't sacked once, in part because he took off and ran when appropriate, and also as a reult of him getting rid of the ball quickly. But let's be real. Batch also had the afternoon he did thanks to having a comfortable pocket to scan the field and throw from. Without the type of performance the line had, there's no way Batch turns in the jaw-dropping performance that he did.
* I'll need to re-watch the tape to see how each man along the line performed, but on first impression, I sure thought Flozell Adams played well from his right tackle position. Protected Batch just fine in the passing game, and opened up some monster running lanes for Rashard Mendenhall in the run game. A Steeler Nation salute to Doug Legursky as well. Starting in place of the injured Trai Essex, Legursky was also responsible for some of the spacious running room Mendy enjoyed en route to his 143 yard outing. And oh yeah, not that you needed any reminding but the Steelers have themselves a stud in center Maurkice Pouncey. He's incredibly strong and sturdy, but it's interesting to me that the guy almost looks more like a linebacker than he does an OL. He's so athletic and tenacious.... and to think he's just getting started.
* How good is Rashard Mendenahll while we're on the subject? 19 carries, 143 yards, 1 TD. So long as the dude isn't fumbling, I'm hard pressed to name 5 or 6 better backs in the NFL. Another vintage spin move resulted in a big gain in the first half. Countless other times he put his head down and banged heads while fighting for tough yardage. If Mendenhall reaches 300 carries for the season, my money is on him finishing with more than 1,300 yards.
* Hines Ward didn't have a huge game by any means, but I was still pleased to see him extend his streak of consecutive games with at least one reception to 181 games. Ward also caught his 79th career TD pass, moving him into a tie for 20th place all-time with Charley Taylor (1964-1977), and Harold Carmichael (1971-1984). For me personally, it's going to be a whole lot of fun keeping tabs on Ward's ascension up the career ranks as this season (and hopefully a few more) progresses.
* It was an unrealistic goal, but I'll admit to hoping that the Steelers would go the entire 16-game regular season without allowing 300 yards in any one game. That possibility ended on Sunday, as the Buccaneers finished 303 yards of total offense. I'm not happy about it either. Yet again, the opposition picks up yards and points in garbage time with the game out of reach. That's not to say I'm disappointed with Dick LeBeau's group, just that a greedy side of me wants the final numbers to reflect how stout the defense is playing. Honestly though, last week's garbage time yards by the Tennessee Titans were more upsetting to me than were today's by the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay actually had some success sustaining drives throughout the game, whereas the Titans really couldn't do a lick until the final few minutes of the 4th quarter.
* I know there's a lot of Brett Keisel fans out there who were ecstatic to see him find the endzone on his 79-yard interception return. I don't know if you noticed this, but CBS commentator Steve Tasker had his worst moment of the afternoon when he tried to insist that Keisel was a slow, lumbering lineman. His partner, the unwaveringly great Gus Johnson, correctly joked that Keisel looked fairly quick for a big dude, and then a few minutes later that Mendenhall should be concerned about his job. Tasker didn't budge from his rigid, stiff stance, insisting that Keisel was just like every other 285 pound defensive lineman - slow, un-agile, etc. Johnson let it go, but he was right. Keisel showed off some surprising open-field speed, not to mention vision and cut-back ability. Awesome.
* You know your offense played well when your punter only sees the field once. Daniel Sepulveda made the most of that lone punt, booming about 45-50 yards. It wasn't fielded by the Bucs' return man though, and proceeded to bounce inside the 10 yard line before being downed. The Steelers had two drives end with interceptions, and another on downs early in the 3rd quarter. At one point though they found the end zone on four straight offensive possessions. An extremely efficient and productive performance by the offense when not much at all was expected of them.
* I was watching this one from bed after a long night of fun, so more from me on this game throughout the week after I get a chance to watch the game again. Oh yeah, it's also Ravens week. Always a blast. Mr. Malor - come out, come out, wherever you are. I'm actually a touch nervous going into this one, but I'll save that for later in the week. First place in the AFC North will be up for grabs at Heinz Field. Can't wait. For now, I'm content feeling excited about and proud of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 3-0 start to the new season.
* Before I go, a shout out to the Steelers' faithful that showed up at Raymond Jones Stadium in Tampa. Again the commentating crew gets it wrong by saying that Steelers' fans travel well. No they don't. They just live everywhere, as we all know here on BTSC.