Tampa, FL (Sports Network) – Charlie Batch threw three touchdown passes in his first NFL start since 2007 and the Steelers rolled to a 38-13 victory over Tampa Bay in the NFL’s lone Week 3 matchup of undefeated teams.
The 35-year-old Batch got the call under center with a suspended Ben Roethlisberger still unavailable and injuries to both Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich. The veteran filled in admirably as a game-manager, hitting on 12- of-17 throws for 186 yards, but also produced a pair of big plays with 46 and 41-yard touchdown tosses to Mike Wallace.
Wallace caught three passes for 100 yards, while Rashard Mendenhall gashed the defense for 143 yards and a score on 19 touches for Pittsburgh (3-0), which moved to 3-0 for the first time since 2007.
Josh Freeman completed 20-of-31 passes for 184 yards with an interception that was returned 79 yards for a touchdown by fleet-of-foot lineman Brett Keisel.
Freeman was later replaced by Josh Johnson, who made good on all six of his pass attempts for 67 yards on Tampa Bay’s lone touchdown drive. Rookie LeGarrette Blount scored from a yard out on the first play after the two-minute warning for the surprising Buccaneers (2-1), who started the season with back-to-back wins for the first time since winning the NFC South in 2005.
Batch’s day started out on a sour note, as Aquib Talib intercepted a pass intended for Wallace on the second play of the game leading to a 40-yard Connor Barth field goal and a 3-0 Bucs lead.
On Pittsburgh’s third series, Batch redeemed himself with a deep ball up the seam to Wallace, who made a leaping grab in the end zone for a 46-yard score.
Tampa Bay put together 15-play, 74-yard drive at the end of the first quarter, but it stalled at the five-yard line shortly into the second and Barth booted a 24-yard field goal for a 7-6 game.
Batch came back to lead another three touchdown drives before halftime as Pittsburgh built a 28-6 lead. It was Batch’s 24-yard scramble on 3rd-and-6 that kept the first of three moving, and Heath Miller hauled in a 21-yard pass over the middle to reach the three. Mendenhall then plowed across the goal line to go up 14-6.
The visitors were back in the end zone in short order after Tampa turned it over on a fumble near midfield. Two plays later, Batch threw to the back right corner of the end zone for Wallace. The ball was tipped by Talib but right into the waiting arms of Wallace for a 41-yard touchdown.
An efficient 11-play, 79-yard scoring drive to close out the half’s scoring saw Batch complete two third-down throws, including a nine-yard TD toss to Hines Ward.
The Steelers defense did well to protect the lead from there and Jeff Reed connected for the third quarter’s only points with a 24-yard field goal.
The game was essentially put away on the first play of the fourth quarter when Keisel took an interception 79 yards to the end zone with the help of some key blocks.
By the time Johnson took over and guided the Bucs on a 10-play, 68-yard scoring march, the game was too far out of hand.
Batch is now 5-2 as a starter against the Bucs. He had two interceptions in the game…Ward had three receptions for 34 yards and has a catch in 181 consecutive games, the fifth-longest streak in NFL history…The Steelers lead the all-time series with Tampa, 8-1…It was the Steelers’ first return visit to Raymond James Stadium since winning Super Bowl XLIII in 2008 against Arizona. The last regular season visit saw Pittsburgh come away with a 20-3 victory in December of 2006…Blount was at the head of the Tampa rushing game with 27 yards on six attempts…Rookie wideout Mike Williams led Tampa Bay with five catches for 55 yards.