BALTIMORE — Ben Roethlisberger was the first to greet Charlie Batch, grabbing him tightly for a 30-second bear hug that summed up everything about this emotional day, this resilient team, this improbable win.
The quarterback who was too hurt to play knew exactly what was going through the mind of the quarterback who was being called too old to play.
The Steelers had just beaten the Ravens team they supposedly couldn’t beat — not in this stadium, not under these circumstances, not with this man at the controls, and it meant everything to both of them.
“You go out there and that was a big win,” Batch said. “It was one of those moments, and he and I shared it. I’ll keep it between us what was said, but it was something that was special.”
Special almost didn’t begin to describe the Steelers’ 23-20 win Sunday over the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, where it appeared not one of the 71,442 in attendance left before Shaun Suisham decided it with his third field goal, a 42-yarder on the final, stunning-to-the-home-crowd play.
Maybe because it looked to be all over for the Steelers (7-5) when the Ravens (9-3), in position to wrap up the AFC North with a win and a little help, seized a 13-3 lead on Joe Flacco’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin late in the second quarter.
It was a sizable deficit for a Steelers offense that was averaging a touchdown a game without its franchise quarterback.
“A lot of people were counting us out,” Jonathan Dwyer said. “It was an amazing win.”
The Steelers were without the still-injured Roethlisberger, the one player they can always count on to get them out of these jams. In his place was a man who will turn 38 in three days, the oldest quarterback in Steelers history.
And they were turning the ball over yet again — three more turnovers, giving them an unfathomable 11 in two games — and turning over players on both sides of the ball at an alarming rate, Willie Colon and Ike Taylor among them.
The All-Pro center, Maurkice Pouncey, was at left guard on a makeshift offensive line in which a seventh-round rookie, Kelvin Beachum, was at right tackle and a backup, Doug Legursky, was at center. Top cornerback Taylor was injured and out, too, and Flacco and Boldin spent the first half picking on his replacement, Cortez Allen. About the only addition was Troy Polamalu, who played for the first time since tearing a calf muscle eight weeks ago.
But the team that couldn’t beat the near-comical Browns the week before found a way to beat the Ravens, something no team had done in Baltimore since the Steelers last accomplished it 16 games and two years ago.
The Steelers ended the Ravens’ 12-game AFC North winning streak, four-game overall winning streak and held onto the AFC’s second wild-card spot that might be decided when the Bengals (7-5) — who came back themselves to beat the Chargers 20-13 — visit Heinz Field in three weeks.
“We control our own destiny,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “As long as keep winning, we get a ticket.”
They did it with defense, limiting the Ravens to a dozen yards in a pivotal fourth quarter turned by James Harrison’s strip-sack of Flacco, altered by Batch’s clutch, game-tying 7-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller with 7:24 remaining and decided by a stirring, game-ending drive that lasted 6 minutes, 14 seconds.
“I challenged the offense: ‘Let’s go out and do it,’ ” Batch said. “We put everything on the line. I wouldn’t say our season was on the line, but we knew we had to come in and get this win because in order to get into that (Super Bowl) tournament we need wins, plain and simple.”
Batch, so dreadful the week before while getting picked off three times by the Browns, went 25 of 36 for 276 yards — his most ever with the Steelers.
“Charlie did an amazing job,” lineman Max Starks said. “It was a phenomenal job.”
It was the first win for the Steelers in the seven career games that Roethlisberger has not started against the Ravens.
More than anything, maybe that explained why a quarterback whose career is not nearly over was so overcome by the play of a quarterback who, depending on Roethlisberger’s health, may have played his last game.
“December football, it’s big,” said Batch, who is very much in the December of his career.
Of course, Decembers are almost always something to remember for the Steelers, who are 9-2 in their last 11 games played in the month.
And the game’s biggest block? It was delivered by none other than Batch, a seal block on Cary Williams that left a running lane wide open for Jonathan Dwyer on his 16-yard touchdown run that tied it at 13 early in the third quarter. Batch set up the score with a 43-yard completion to Miller.
“It shows you what kind of heart he has,” Dwyer said. “I know I wouldn’t have scored without that block.”
The loss likely won’t cost the Ravens the division, yet they begrudgingly ceded the win to the Steelers.
As safety Bernard Pollard was praising Batch, saying, “He’s a professional quarterback. He’s on the roster for a reason.”
Ed Reed, listening nearby, replied with a snarl and an off-color comment.
Typical Steelers vs. Ravens in other words. It was the seventh time in their last eight games the final margin was three points.
Not surprisingly, the Steelers hugged each other, danced in the end zone and celebrated in unison at the end, and that attracted the Ravens’ attention, especially given that Pittsburgh has almost no chance to win the division.
“When you looked at their faces when they ran off the field, man, this wasn’t the Super Bowl,” said Reed, who had a fumble recovery and an interception.
No, but it wasn’t the Blooper Bowl of the week before, either. And just when they seemed to be going away, the Steelers showed their biggest rival and the rest of the NFL they might be around a little longer.
Maybe for some January football.