Steelers not surprised to be 3-0

Others may be, but the Pittsburgh Steelers express little surprise they have gone 3-0 without the services of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ...

... "It's great. It speaks a lot for our team," said running back Rashard Mendenhall, who has helped the cause by rushing for 332 yards in three games. "As far as our mentality, expectations don't change for us. Nobody's going to care if you lose a game because someone's not here."

The one still there despite the odds against him is quarterback Charlie Batch, 35. He's the one who was headed for the exit to start the season, thrust behind Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon all spring and summer. He got no snaps with the first-team offense in the spring or summer, none in the preseason, none until last week after knee injuries to Leftwich and Dixon left coach Mike Tomlin little choice but to turn to Batch.

"I was the odd man out. You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out," Batch said.

But Batch, starting for the first time since 2007, threw three touchdown passes in Pittsburgh's 38-13 dousing of Tampa Bay and will start his second straight game Sunday against Baltimore in Heinz Field.

The Steelers will try to go 4-0 when they turn things over to Roethlisberger when he returns next Monday from his four-game suspension. Roethlisberger is eligible to play when the Steelers come off their bye week and take on Cleveland at home Oct. 17.

There aren't many who thought they could win two games, never mind be 3-0 and have a chance at a sweep while waiting for their suspended quarterback to return.

"Of course, we did," said wide receiver Mike Wallace, who caught two long touchdown passes from Batch in Tampa. "We didn't worry about what anybody said. We know what kind of team we have."

NOTES, QUOTES

* The Steelers did not make the playoffs last season but they finished in a rush by winning their final three games. They now have a six-game winning streak after opening this season 3-0.

* The Steelers moved to the AFC during the 1970 merger between the AFL and the NFL. They might not mind a move back. Pittsburgh has won 22 of it past 26 games against NFC teams, including two this season. Coach Mike Tomlin is 12-3 against NFC teams, including his Super Bowl win against Arizona.

* DE Brett Keisel's 79-yard interception return for a TD came down the same sideline and into the same end zone as LB James Harrison's 100-yard return in Super Bowl XLIII.

"He didn't have to run that far, 79, 80 yards, he'll be all right," Harrison said. "That extra 20 might have broke him up."

PLAYER NOTES

* NT Chris Hoke will miss at least two games and probably more with a sprained MCL in his right knee, which occurred late in Sunday's game. Hoke has been a super sub for the Steelers behind Pro Bowler Casey Hampton.

* QB Dennis Dixon is a candidate to go on injured reserve after having surgery to repair the lateral meniscus in his left knee last Wednesday. The prognosis for his return is six weeks.

* LB Jason Worilds, the team's second-round draft choice this year, earned his first NFL sack. He has been converted from defensive end at Virginia Tech to outside linebacker and played almost exclusively on special teams until Sunday.

* WR Antwaan Randle El took his first snaps at quarterback in his second stint with the Steelers but handed off both times. He is 20 of 25 passing with four TDs in the regular season in his career, not including the TD pass he threw to Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL.

* WR Mike Wallace, who led the NFL with a 19.4-yard average per catch as a rookie, has a 26.7-yard average after three games. He has seven receptions (two TDs) for 187 yards.

REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANERSS

PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Only 186 yards and two interceptions? The circumstances were such that Charlie Batch's first start at quarterback since 2007 was just what the Pittsburgh Steelers needed. His first pass was intercepted. He then threw three TD strikes, two for more than 40 yards to Mike Wallace. By halftime he was 11 of 14 for 177 yards and ahead 28-6, and that's all that was needed on this day. His final pass was intercepted, late in the game, and meaningless. He also was not sacked.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- This is what team president Art Rooney meant back in January when he said they needed to be more productive on the ground. They had 201 yards, a 6.3-yard average and with a lead in the second half and needing only to run out the clock, they carried 20 times for 134 yards. Rashard Mendenhall ran 19 times for 143 (7.5 average) and one score.

PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- Two Tampa Bay quarterbacks completed 26 of 37 passes for 251 yards, but much of that came after the game was out of hand. Starter Josh Freeman was sacked three times and backup Josh Johnson once. And defensive end Brett Keisel intercepted a Freeman pass and ran it back 79 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Steelers also had many of their second-teamers in the game in the fourth quarter when the Bucs, behind Johnson's perfect 6-for-6, ran the hurry-up offense to their only touchdown.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- Tampa Bay managed just 75 yards on 21 carries with rookie LeGarrette Blount punching into the end zone from the 1 on fourth down in the fourth quarter for the Bucs' only touchdown. Blount led them with 27 yards on six carries and the running game was never a factor for Tampa Bay.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- There were no returns of note for either side, and that's a good thing for a Steelers team that gave up four kickoff returns for touchdowns last season. Daniel Sepulveda punted once for a net/gross of 62 yards. Jeff Reed connected on his only field-goal attempt from 24 yards and his kickoffs continued to be strong. The only negative came on the opening kickoff when Mewelde Moore faked a handoff to rookie Antonio Brown (who took Moore's handoff 89 yards for a TD on the opening kick a week earlier in Tennessee) and Moore was tackled at the 14.

COACHING: A -- Whatever Mike Tomlin is feeding his players during Ben Roethlisberger's absence, they are buying it. They are as focused a football team as they have been since their Super Bowl season in 2008 and express no surprise they are 3-0. The defense is playing at its highest level since that season as well. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians showed faith in veteran quarterback Charlie Batch by allowing him to throw deep a few times and it paid off with two long TD passes to Mike Wallace.


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