Collier: Silly birds turn tide

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BALTIMORE -- The inevitable emotional conflagration we know as Steelers-Ravens played out in all of its gory glory again Sunday in the fading Chesapeake twilight, this time with the focus on one of its often undersold elements:

Ravenesque stupidity.

In an unmatched NFL rivalry that usually goes into the books on a field goal (as have eight of the past 13 meetings), the winner is often enough merely the team that keeps its head.

Fortunately for the Steelers, there was no cooler head in this crucible than the one inside the helmet of Charlie Batch, the oldest man in either uniform.

"Any time you can come into Baltimore and get a win it's good, and I'm just so proud of the way we fought," said defensive end Brett Keisel. "Outside [of the locker room] I don't think there were many people who gave Charlie a chance in this game, but I'll tell you, he gets my MVP."

Good choice. Batch drove 61 yards in a clock-swallowing 6:14 for -- what else -- the winning field goal. The Ravens still lead the AFC North Division comfortably, but they started making full brain-lock mental errors before they even left the playing field at Heinz Field two weeks ago. Ray Rice walked out of Heinz Field with a terrible towel on his head, then head coach John Harbaugh yipped that the tougher team had won that game, but in order to lose here in Charm City to an 8-point underdog manned by its backup backup quarterback, the Ravens needed something even more stupid.

Even more stupid than torching their next-to-last timeout to challenge a Batch incompletion the naked eye could see from Eutaw Street.

So with Batch trying to coax an offense fronted by a fifth different line combination into the range of Sweezy Money in a tie score that had faded into its final minutes, Baltimore linebacker Paul Kruger delivered.

Batch had just released a 10-yard out pass to Mike Wallace at the Ravens 34 when Kruger chose that moment to give the quarterback the old Lindsay Lohan.

That's right, late and high.

Roughing the passer, first down Steelers at the 19, and on top of that, cornerback Chykie Brown was hurt on the play, costing the Ravens their final timeout.

"I just can't believe I put my teammates in that situation," Kruger said in the losing locker room. "I had a clear shot at him; I just got my hands too high and I shouldn't have made it that close. It was a big mistake on my part for even making it a possible call."

True enough, but even in that instance, Batch's experience and calm was critical.

"In that situation I was holding the ball as long as I could," Batch said. "I did something the offensive line probably wouldn't want me to do. I looked inside for Heath but they' picked him up, so I held it until Wallace was clear to my left.

"Coach [Todd Haley] told me later, 'Whew! I mean I trust your judgment, but whew!'"

Even if that mitigates Kruger's culpability, the Ravens still sabotaged a 10-point lead at home due mostly to that chronic inability to keep their heads. Safety Bernard Pollard should have cost them 15 for squawking at and taunting center-turned-guard Maurkice Pouncey after the play, and Jacoby Jones got away with a punch in the first half.

"I don't know," Pouncey said, "You hit a guy and he wants to get all mouthy. The bottom line was that Charlie just did an awesome job managing this game. It was awesome to see."

Batch was getting his second crack at relieving Ben Roethlisberger after Byron Leftwich broke his ribs in his first attempt, and what a difference just a week made.

"It was good to get another opportunity to work with the receivers and work with the first team offense," Batch said. "I really welcomed that."

Batch's passer rating Sunday, 89.6, was the best by a Steelers quarterback since the previous time Big Ben put in a full shift, Nov. 4 against the Giants. The old Homesteader was far from perfect: He missed a wide-open Wallace in the endzone in the first half that, in part, moved Mike Tomlin to say later, "We didn't make it as easy as we could have."

But the guy who turns 38 Wednesdaay easily outperformed Baltimore's Joe Flacco, completing 25 of his 36 passes for 276 yards, one a rollout laser to Heath Miller that the brilliant tight end turned into a diving, pylon-poking touchdown to tie game.

"He did a great job keeping us together as an offense and making positive plays," said Miller. "It's all right to punt against a team like that. Charlie did a great job of leading us to victory. He deserves a lot of credit."

Roethlisberger embraced Batch seconds after Sean Suisham banged home the winner. Charlie got emotional when asked about it and said he'd be keeping that conversation to himself.

Conversations today all over Baltimore won't be terribly special. I wouldn't be surprised if "stupid" doesn't get said once or twice.

mobilehome - genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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