The Pittsburgh Steelers know they’re headed to the playoffs, but after blowing a chance at putting themselves in the driver’s seat for the AFC’s top seed, they’ll likely be playing on wild-card weekend.
That might also be the next time Ben Roethlisberger takes the field.
With the Steelers likely to finish as the AFC’s No. 5 seed and Roethlisberger feeling the effects of a high ankle sprain, Charlie Batch will start under center Saturday as the woeful Rams visit Heinz Field.
Baltimore was dominated from start to finish by San Diego in a 34-14 loss Sunday night, leaving an opening for Pittsburgh (10-4) to not only leapfrog the Ravens for the AFC North lead but establish itself as the front-runner for the conference’s top seed.
The Steelers, however, delivered their own prime-time no-show Monday. With Roethlisberger’s mobility limited, he threw three interceptions and was sacked three times in a 20-3 loss at San Francisco.
Now, unless 10-4 Baltimore slips up again, Pittsburgh is headed for the No. 5 seed and a likely visit to the AFC West winner in a wild-card game.
“Yes, we had the ball in our court and we dropped it a little bit,” receiver Mike Wallace said. “Having home field is a help but it is not everything. We can still go on the road and win.”
The Steelers’ remaining schedule still gives them a strong opportunity to keep the heat on the Ravens, who host Cleveland on Saturday before closing the season at Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh closes on the road against the Browns after hosting St. Louis (2-12), and the Steelers said Friday that Roethlisberger wouldn’t start against the Rams. The QB said Wednesday that he would prefer to play and believed his ankle was in pretty good shape after throwing 45 times against the 49ers.
Roethlisberger last missed a start due to injury in 2009, when a concussion forced him to sit out a loss to Baltimore.
Batch has gone 4-2 in spot starts with Pittsburgh, and he last started Oct. 3, 2010. He could have Maurkice Pouncey snapping him the ball, as the Pro Bowl center missed the San Francisco game with a high ankle sprain but hopes to play Saturday after saying the week off helped immensely.
The Steelers have 25 of their 30 sacks at home - that’s where seven of Harrison’s eight have come - but it’s not completely clear who the defense will be chasing Saturday.
Sam Bradford has missed two of the last three games with - stop if this sounds familiar - a high ankle sprain, and while A.J. Feeley hardly made the offense any better in his three starts, Kellen Clemens did a solid job in last week’s 20-13 loss to Cincinnati.
Signed off waivers Dec. 7, Clemens - who had started one NFL game since 2007 - went 25 of 36 for 229 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.
Clemens appears likely to get the call again unless, according to coach Steve Spagnuolo, “all of a sudden Sam bounces in.”
“I thought he did a great job and I thought he handled it very well,” Bradford said. “He made smart decisions all day, he got them in and out of the huddle. I really can’t say enough about the way he played.”
The Rams went 2 for 13 on third down, however, and are converting just 26.9 percent of those chances this season. No NFC team has finished with a worse mark since the 2004 Bears converted 25.1 percent.
With uncertainty under center, St. Louis figures to again feed Steven Jackson the ball early. Jackson is 34 yards away from becoming the seventh back in NFL history to gain 1,000 yards or more in seven consecutive seasons.
Jackson has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry during the Rams’ five consecutive losses, though, as the offense has averaged a mere 240.0 yards per game.
Jackson ran 12 times for 85 yards and caught a touchdown pass in his only game against the Steelers, but Pittsburgh prevailed 41-24 in St. Louis on Dec. 20, 2007, behind three TD passes and a perfect 158.3 passer rating from Roethlisberger.
Batch has thrown eight TDs and six interceptions in his six spot starts.