Cook: Steelers should be able to win with Batch

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It's not as if Charlie Batch has to beat the Miami Dolphins by himself. That's the good news this morning. His offensive linemen can help him in a big way. They need to keep him clean Thursday night and open holes for Willie Parker. The receivers have to get open and catch his passes. Hines Ward will be among them. He returned to practice yesterday and appears to be healthy again, so not everything was lost on this dreary Sunday. Then, there's the defense, led by Joey Porter, the NFL's most feared player -- or so some are saying. It can shut down the Dolphins. You can't lose if you don't give up any points.

"We'll rally around Charlie," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said last night, a few hours after Batch officially became the team's starting quarterback -- at least for the opener against the Dolphins and almost certainly in the second game in Jacksonville Sept. 18 -- because of Ben Roethlisberger's emergency appendectomy.

Or, as Ward put it, "Yes, it's a big blow to us, but the show must go on. We can't cancel these two games just because Ben is out. Charlie is our quarterback now and we've got to find a way to stay afloat."

If there has been a trademark of Cowher's teams over the years, it has been their ability to deal with adversity. You only have to go back to last season to see that. The Steelers played four games without Roethlisberger and survived. They played four and part of a fifth without Marvel Smith, their big left tackle, and stumbled but somehow didn't fall. They even overcame a three-game losing streak that left them with a 7-5 record and virtually no chance of making the playoffs.

So it should come as no surprise that Cowher jutted out that big jaw a little more than usual when he announced Roethlisberger's surgery.

"Nobody is asking for any pity and nobody is going to make any excuses," he said. "This is just another challenge."

It's believed Cowher delivered that same message to his players.

It didn't hurt, but, with this group, it probably was unnecessary.

"If we felt sorry for ourselves," tackle Max Starks said, "we never would have made it as far as we did last season."

All the way to Detroit for Super Bowl XL and that confetti shower.

And now?

This challenge is a doozy.

If you had said 21/2 months ago, after the horrific event of June 12, that Roethlisberger would miss the opener, no one would have been surprised. But Big Ben shrugged off his motorcycle accident and subsequent facial surgery to make a remarkable recovery. He showed up at training camp on time and did everything. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said there was a night-and-day difference between his performance this summer and last. His game was that much better, that much sharper. He knew the offense inside out. He couldn't wait to show the world against the Dolphins.

And an appendectomy knocks him out? Four days before the big game?

"I figure he'll be just fine after this," Starks said, "because he has to be owed a little good luck, you know?"

Batch knows.

"You just feel horrible for him," he said. "You hope he continues to be a fast healer and gets back soon."

But until then ...

"I'm the guy," Batch said. "I'm just glad I found out when I did. At least I'll get three practices in this week [with the first offense]. That's huge."

Everybody from Whisenhunt to Ward to center Jeff Hartings said the Steelers had one of their better practices yesterday. There was no moping. Cowher wouldn't allow it. Ward, Hartings and the other veterans wouldn't allow it.

"You never like to see the backup quarterback play because that means the starter is out, but we're lucky to have Charlie," said Hartings, who played with Batch for three seasons with the Detroit Lions. "He's healthier now than he's been since he's been here and he's throwing the ball better than I've ever seen him."

"Why should we feel sorry for ourselves?" Ward asked. "Charlie started two games last season and we won 'em both. He can win a couple more."

It's not Batch's first rodeo, not by a long shot. He played extensively in the four exhibition games, prompting Cowher to say, "It's not like he's going to be rusty at all." He also started 46 games for the Lions and played well enough at one point for the team to hand him an $11 million signing bonus. His time in Detroit didn't end well, but that was about his lame supporting cast as much as it was about him.

Which brings us back to Ward, the Steelers' offensive linemen and the rest.

"We really do have to rally around Charlie and make plays for him," Ward said.

At that moment, Porter wasn't available for comment. A team spokesman said he was in the weight room, lifting, building up the amazing body that's on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated for all to see.

Hopefully, for the Steelers' sake, while Porter was at it, he also was getting a little meaner.

The team will need it Thursday night.

Batch will appreciate it.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1525.


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