Friday, August 31, 2012

Batch, Steelers Best Panthers - Wheeling Intelligencer

PITTSBURGH - Charlie Batch completed 11 of 14 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown to bolster his hopes of playing a 15th NFL season and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Carolina Panthers 17-16 in their preseason finale Thursday night.

Batch hit Emmanuel Sanders for a 37-yard play on Pittsburgh's first drive and later found Will Johnson for a 27-yard gain to set up a field goal as the Steelers (3-1) won a battle of the backups against the Panthers (2-2).

Carolina quarterback Jimmy Clausen passed for 173 yards and two touchdowns, including a 79-yard score to rookie Lamont Bryant with 2:31 to play to bring the Panthers within a point. The 2-point conversion failed, however, and kicker Justin Medlock missed a 50-yard field goal with 32 seconds left.

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Pittsburgh's Chris Rainey returns a punt against Carolina.

Both teams sat the majority of their top players.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and defensive back Troy Polamalu did not play for Pittsburgh, while Carolina coach Ron Rivera gave quarterback Cam Newton and wide receiver Steve Smith the night off.

That left plenty of time for guys who are fighting to survive Friday's final roster cuts, a group that includes Batch.

The 37-year-old is the elder statesman on the Steelers, and has been involved in a camp-long duel with Jerrod Johnson for the team's third quarterback spot. It's a familiar position for Batch, who survived roster cuts in each of the last two seasons thanks in part to injuries to usual backup Byron Leftwich.

Leftwich has stayed healthy this summer and injury issues at several positions - including offensive line and linebacker - have made it uncertain whether the Steelers will keep three quarterbacks on the roster.

Batch, a Pittsburgh native, put together a pretty convincing argument he should stick around. He deftly drove the Steelers 80 yards on five plays the first time they got the ball, capping the drive with a rainbow strike to Sanders. Batch floated the ball toward the goal line and Sanders split two defenders and made a spectacular diving catch.

Pittsburgh rookie running back/kick returner Chris Rainey appeared to make it 14-0 a few minutes later when he returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown. The play was called back, however, due to a holding penalty.

It happened again later in the quarter, when Rainey hauled in a punt at the Pittsburgh 9, made a defender grasp at thin air then dashed 91 yards for a score. That one came back too, thanks to another holding penalty.

Carolina used the reprieve to eventually tie the game. Derek Anderson struggled during his half of play - completing 8 of 18 passes for 91 yards - but did put together a 17-play, 73-yard drive that ended with Medlock's 31-yard field goal.

It was the highlight of the night for Medlock, who beat out veteran Olindo Mare for the starting job earlier in the week. He had the distance on a 56-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter, but it sailed wide right and his game-winning attempt sailed wide left.

The Panthers tied it at 10 early in the second half when Clausen found Jared Green for a 3-yard touchdown pass.

Pittsburgh reclaimed the lead early in the fourth quarter when Batch found tight end Weslye Saunders for a 6-yard score.

The Steelers did allow a handful of starters to break a sweat, including nose tackle Casey Hampton. The 12-year veteran spent the first three weeks of training camp on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from offseason knee surgery. Still, Hampton vowed to be ready for the opener and he sprinted onto the field when he was introduced.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection played throughout the first quarter and finished with two tackles.

"I didn't want to go into Denver without having any full-speed action," Hampton said.

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