Ben Roethlisberger, Willie Parker and the offense -- yes, even the maligned line -- made it look easy last night and then quickly disappeared as the Steelers opened their preseason with a 16-10 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, so, too, did backup quarterback Charlie Batch, who departed in the second quarter with a broken right collarbone. Batch likely will miss 4-6 weeks, coach Mike Tomlin said, and the Steelers will try to sign a veteran backup.
Byron Leftwich, a former starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons, is scheduled to arrive in Pittsburgh for a workout today and possibly sign with the Steelers. Atlanta released Leftwich, 28, in February.
Jeff Reed kicked two of his three field goals in the fourth quarter, including one of 50 yards, to break a tie and propel the Steelers to the victory.
"I thought our first offense was sharp coming out of the gate," Tomlin said. "That was important to us."
Roethlisberger smartly took his team 80 yards on the opening drive that ended with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes.
His job done for the night, the quarterback retired to the sideline as did halfback Willie Parker, who ran three times on that drive for 20 yards. The entire first-team offense left the game after the second series, and the backups played the rest of the game.
"It was important we got Willie Parker going and got him some looks early," Tomlin said.
The performance was overshadowed by the injury to Batch, who has been the No. 2 quarterback since 2005 after signing as a free agent in 2002. He was hurt after a busted play in the second quarter prompted him to carry the ball and lower his shoulder as he was tackled.
"There was a miscommunication between he and Mewelde Moore," Tomlin said. "The reality is he ended up with the football, tried to make the best of a bad situation, made a nice play. The competitor in him probably got the best of him, and he lowered his shoulder."
Rookie quarterback Dennis Dixon replaced Batch and played into the fourth quarter, leaving in favor of rookie Mike Potts with 10:17 left. Dixon completed six of nine passes for 30 yards and had a 41-yard completion nullified by a holding penalty. He led the Steelers on the drive that broke a 10-10 tie when Reed kicked a 24-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
"I thought Dennis Dixon came in and did some nice things," Tomlin said.
Roethlisberger, whose 32 touchdown passes last season broke Terry Bradshaw's team record, completed both his passes for a total of 38 yards and had plenty of time to throw behind an offensive line minus seven-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca.
"I think it was awesome that the offensive line did a great job of run-blocking," Roethlisberger said. "The running backs ran well. We threw two passes, and they protected very well. I think it was a good first drive for us."
Rookie Rashard Mendenhall, who gained 15 yards on one nice run in the second quarter, picked up seven yards on his first carry as the Steelers smoothly moved through the Eagles in that opening drive. Their only third-down play was their last, from the Philadelphia 19.
With the Eagles blitzing, Roethlisberger threw quickly to Holmes near the line of scrimmage on the left side. Holmes faked safety Brian Dawkins, then sped around him to polish off his scoring catch.
"It was a sight adjust," Roethlisberger explained. "We were on the same page. I got it to him, and he made it to the end zone."
Holmes, who led all NFL receivers last season with an average of 18.2 yards a catch, wants to top his touchdown total of eight from last season. He believes the mixture of running and passing on that efficient first drive was a window to the future.
"It was a big statement about what our offense is going to look like in the games to come," Holmes said. "It just showed that we were working hard together throughout the whole off-season, and now we're finally getting on the same page."
Parker's goal was to prove to everyone, including himself, that his right fibula, broken in the 15th game last season while he was the league's leading rusher, has fully healed. He seemed to do that last night.
"It was big for me personally," Parker said, "getting on that field and running and getting everything all back. It's just like a dream come true. I've been thinking about this for a long time."
Parker also gave his line credit for its run-blocking.
"They were really working hard out there and going and getting it. We've all been in training camp for so long. Our defense knows what we're going to do. It feels like we were staying the same, not moving. We weren't going forward or backward.
"Out here, we were moving a little bit, going forward."
Mendenhall benefited from that as well with 34 yards rushing on seven carries, all in the first half.
"We wanted to get Mendenhall a few totes and see what he was capable of," Tomlin said.
The Eagles scored on David Akers' 28-yard field goal late in the first quarter. Philadelphia took the lead early in the second quarter on Donovan McNabb's third-down, three-yard pass to Jason Davis. The Eagles stayed with their first-team offense while the Steelers deployed their second-team defense on that drive.
Reed tied it, 10-10, with a 20-yard field goal late in the second quarter. He broke the tie with a 24-yard kick, giving the Steelers a 13-10 lead with 12 minutes left. His 50-yarder came with 7:28 left.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published August 9, 2008 4:00 AM