LANDOVER, Md. -- It's still hard to say Ben Roethlisberger is the best quarterback in the NFL, that miracle drive to beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII and the Steelers' two world championships in the past four years notwithstanding. It's always going to be hard as long as the New England Patriots' Tom Brady is in his prime.
But this isn't the least bit difficult to opine: The Steelers have the best set of quarterbacks in the league.
Try naming a better pair than Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch.
I'm saying you can't do it.
I'll take Big Ben over any quarterback not named Brady. That's why it was so nice to see him laughing on the FedEx Field sideline last night, seemingly carefree, watching in sweats as the old Batch -- sorry, Charlie -- and young third-stringer Dennis Dixon led the Steelers to a 10-3 halftime lead in what turned into a 17-13 exhibition loss to the Washington Redskins. The city of Pittsburgh was briefly in a panic Thursday afternoon when Roethlisberger went down late in the final training-camp practice with some sort of right foot injury. But it's a minor problem. Teammates said he definitely would have played last night if it were the second regular-season game instead of the second exhibition game.
"We don't think it's a long-term thing," coach Mike Tomlin said.
Go ahead, breathe.
But even if Roethlisberger has to miss a game somewhere along the way this season, the world won't necessarily end. Batch is capable. He showed just a bit of that in his quarter-and-change work as the starter against the Redskins.
That is an incredible luxury for the Steelers.
Really, quarterbacks are so precious.
Did you happen to watch Redskins starter Jason Campbell? It's pretty obvious the Washington club isn't thrilled with him. It tried hard to trade for Denver's Jay Cutler in the offseason, then tried hard to trade up in the NFL draft to get Southern California's Mark Sanchez. The only surprise is it didn't try to beat the Minnesota Vikings to Brett Favre, speaking of another team really desperate for a quarterback.
Campbell was 1 for 7 for 10 yards last night.
No matter how much you appreciate Roethlisberger, I'm thinking it's not enough.
And Batch might be even more underappreciated in his important role.
Batch's numbers last night -- 5 of 14 for 63 yards -- weren't all that impressive, but that was because of a predictable slow start. He played just five plays in the exhibition opener against the Cardinals Aug. 13 -- long enough to throw a 45-yard pass to wide receiver Limas Sweed -- which meant his playing time against the Redskins was his first serious action since late in the 2007 season. His collarbone was broken in the first exhibition game last season.
Batch was errant on five of his first six passes but looked better on the Steelers' nine-play, 50-yard touchdown drive late in the first quarter. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes helped him out big time with a nice catch for a 16-yard gain, then wide receiver Hines Ward did the same by leaping to pull in a 24-yard reception. There also was a 10-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller.
Wouldn't the Redskins love to get that kind of production from Campbell?
Batch played one more series, which was aborted by what appeared to be a third-down drop by Sweed. All in all, it was a good night of work for a quarterback who is, as they say, just one play away from being the man.
"It just felt good to be out there, to be one of the guys again," Batch said. "It had been a long time coming ...
"It was a little slow early, but I felt like I started to get into a little bit of a rhythm. We were able to put a little something together."
Dixon took over and played into the fourth quarter -- with so-so results -- before leaving with a possible right (throwing) shoulder dislocation. There has been some speculation this summer that he might beat out Batch for the backup spot, but that is hard to imagine, injury or not. The Steelers are a veteran team, one that appears to be more than qualified to take a big run at repeating as Super Bowl champs. In the unfortunate event of a Big Ben injury, Tomlin isn't likely to turn over that type of club to a second-year player who still is trying to get his arms around the mental challenges of the pro game.
Batch has to be the guy.
"No question I can do it," he said.
The Steelers are very lucky to have him in their prized stable of quarterbacks.
Ron Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .