Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Pro Sports

November 20, 2012

Steelers face new quarterback crisis

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers are running out of quarterbacks with healthy ribs.

A person familiar with the injury told The Associated Press quarterback Byron Leftwich injured his ribs in the first quarter of Sunday night’s 13-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens and will not start next week in Cleveland. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not officially commented on Leftwich’s status.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported the decision.

Leftwich is the second Pittsburgh quarterback in as many weeks to go down. Starter Ben Roethlisberger is out indefinitely after spraining his right shoulder and dislocating his first rib in a 16-13 overtime victory against the Kansas City Chiefs last Monday.

The Steelers (6-4) will likely turn to 37-year-old backup Charlie Batch against the Browns (2-8). Batch is 5-2 while as a substitute starter over the past decade, including a 27-0 win over St. Louis last December.

Making his first start in three years, Leftwich completed 18 of 39 passes for 201 yards and an interception. He also ran for a 31-yard touchdown in the first quarter, a play that ended with Leftwich clutching his chest.

The 32-year-old Leftwich remained in the game but took a beating, getting sacked three times and drilled a handful of others. He appeared in obvious pain on several occasions and had his ribs examined by team medical personnel in the fourth quarter while Batch warmed up on the sideline.

Leftwich did not miss a snap but labored throwing the ball. The former first round pick has one of the strongest arms in the NFL but was short on several passes to wide-open receivers in the second half as Pittsburgh’s four-game winning streak came to a halt.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin downplayed any disappointment in Leftwich’s play, saying he thought Leftwich was “great” on a night the Steelers recorded their lowest point total at home since a 3-0 victory over the Dolphins in the middle of a torrential rain storm five years ago.

“He sustained some hits, but that’s football,” Tomlin said, “particularly when you’re talking about this matchup.”

Leftwich, who did not take off his uniform until after reporters had left the locker room, was more focused on the offense’s uneven play than his physical condition.

The Ravens did more than give themselves a nice two-game cushion over Pittsburgh (6-4) with six weeks remaining in the season, they also exposed the Steelers’ flaws with Roethlisberger sidelined indefinitely with shoulder and rib injuries.

Even worse, the Steelers converted just 5 of 17 (30 percent) third-down opportunities, well off their 49-percent conversion rate with Roethlisberger.

“We just never could put two, three, four, five, six plays together,” Leftwich said. “We would make a big play and then we were right back to third-and-9, third-and-8 ... You’ve just got to be better on first and second down.”

The seventh overall pick by Jacksonville in 2003 has struggled to stay healthy through the years. He sat out all of last season after breaking his left arm in the preseason and was limited to just one game in 2010 due to a knee injury.

Now it’s Batch’s turn to keep Pittsburgh’s postseason chances afloat. He beat out Jerrod Johnson for the team’s third quarterback spot in training camp and while he lacks the arm strength of Leftwich and Roethlisberger, his accuracy and quick release should help him in offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s short-passing attack.

Batch warmed up briefly on the sideline after Leftwich took a blindside hit from Baltimore safety James Ihedigbo midway through the fourth quarter on Sunday. Batch last played in a shutout victory over the Rams last Christmas Eve, completing 15 of 22 passes for 208 yards and an interception as the Steelers cruised.

“Charlie’s a great quarterback, and he’s also been in the league for some time now,” Pittsburgh cornerback Keenan Lewis said. “He knows the offense upside down (inside out), so if we have to rely on Charlie, we know he could get in there and win games.”

The Steelers will need to bring in another quarterback as insurance. They let Johnson go at the end of camp and released 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith following a brief stint with the team during the spring.

A rematch with the Ravens looms in two weeks, though Pittsburgh’s hopes of catching the Ravens for the AFC North title have all but evaporated. The Steelers would likely need to win in Baltimore — where they’re just 2-7 in the last nine meetings — and have the Ravens stumble to the finish to host a playoff game.

It’s a notion the Steelers cling to, one that seems at least remotely plausible if the defense can continue to thrive. While Baltimore was busy harassing Leftwich, Pittsburgh was doing the same to Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco.

The Ravens managed a season-low 200 yards of total offense as the Steelers shut down running back Ray Rice — 20 carries for 40 yards — and never let speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith to get loose.

“We knew that it was going to be a defensive game coming in,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “It normally is. We mixed up a lot of blitzes and zone. Our back end did a great job.”

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