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Miscues, missteps have Steelers reeling

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Miscues, missteps have Steelers reeling

PITTSBURGH (AP) Charlie Batch paused last week when he was asked if he could make the same throws he did a decade ago.

``No!'' the soon-to-be 38-year-old Steelers backup quarterback said before bursting into laughter.

Turns out, he was right.

Passes fluttering in the late fall wind, Batch tossed three interceptions - two in the fourth quarter - in Sunday's comically bad 20-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Pittsburgh turned it over eight times, committed nine penalties and scored two measly touchdowns against a team it had beaten in 16 of the last 17 meetings.

``I put the game on my shoulders to try and go down and put my team in the end zone and I wasn't able to do that,'' Batch said.

The loss is hardly on Batch's shoulders - not when the Steelers (6-5) fumbled the ball away five times - but with the Browns daring Batch to beat them with his arm by stacking the line of scrimmage to shut down the running game, Batch's ineffectiveness showcased just how ramshackle the Steelers can look without injured starter Ben Roethlisberger under center.

It's uncertain if Roethlisberger's sprained right (throwing) shoulder will be ready to go next Sunday at rival Baltimore (9-2). What is certain? The Steelers - arguably the hottest team in the league after a road victory over the New York Giants three weeks ago - have run out of any wiggle room if they want to make the playoffs.

The Steelers are tied with Cincinnati for the AFC's second wild card spot with five weeks remaining in the regular season. Pittsburgh's remaining schedule includes a trip to Dallas and visits from San Diego and the Bengals in addition to Sunday's journey to Baltimore, where the Steelers have won just twice in their last nine visits.

``It leaves us in a little bit of a hole,'' linebacker James Harrison said.

One that could be particularly difficult to crawl out of if Roethlisberger doesn't return soon. The Steelers have scored just two offensive touchdowns in the 10-plus quarters since he went down in the third quarter of a 16-13 overtime win against the Chiefs on Nov. 12.

Batch and fellow backup Byron Leftwich - out indefinitely with fractured ribs - have been rusty and the three-pronged rushing attack has gone nowhere. Coach Mike Tomlin insists there's no need to pick a feature back among Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, saying he has confidence in all three.

That confidence is all but gone after the trio managed 15 carries for 22 yards and three fumbles against the Browns.

``The running backs, we didn't do well, and we put (Batch) in bad situations,'' Dwyer said. ``We put our defense in bad situations. The running game was supposed to help Charlie out. We let him down.''

Injuries to right tackle Mike Adams and left guard Willie Colon didn't help matters, though the patchwork line had been one of the team's most pleasant surprises. Pittsburgh had a back top 100 yards three times during a four-game winning streak that helped the Steelers rebound from a 2-3 start, finding success with whomever they put out there.

Now, whomever they put out there can't hold onto the ball.

``We are going to play people that can secure the football, but after everybody does it, obviously there aren't very many choices left,'' Tomlin said.

And his team has no choice but to shore things up - quickly - if it wants to play into January, though at this point Pittsburgh would settle for playing something resembling ``Steeler football.''

``I think everybody should have a resolve about themselves to play better and to get better at their craft,'' tight end Heath Miller said. ``I think sometimes it's harder to do when you win a few games; you play well, it's easy to overlook some things. I don't see how we can overlook what we need to do to get better at this point.''

The defense included, even if it did everything it could to keep the Steelers in it. Cleveland's two touchdown drives totaled just 41 yards in length thanks to turnovers that gave the Browns excellent field position.

Pittsburgh sacked Brandon Weeden four times, returned an interception for a score and held Cleveland to just 238 yards.

Still, it wasn't enough to prevent the Steelers from enduring their first two-game losing streak in three years.

``We have to make plays,'' nose tackle Casey Hampton said. ``You can sit here and say `We turned the ball over this many times,' but we get opportunities to get turnovers we have to do that too and give our team the short field sometimes. You can't put it all on one side of the ball. It's everybody. Everybody could have done a little bit more to win.''

NOTES: The Steelers activated rookie LG David DeCastro from the injured reserve/return list. DeCastro, the team's first-round pick in the draft, hasn't played since injuring his right knee in a preseason win over Buffalo in August ... The team placed RT Marcus Gilbert on injured reserve. Gilbert missed the last six games with ligament damage in his right ankle ... The Steelers also released WR David Gilreath and promoted OL John Malecki to the active roster.

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Former Giants OL Mitch Petrus dies of heat stroke at 32

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Former Giants OL Mitch Petrus dies of heat stroke at 32

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Offensive lineman Mitch Petrus, a walk-on at Arkansas who went on to a three-year NFL career that included a Super Bowl win with the New York Giants, has died. He was 32.

Pulaski County Coroner Gerone Hobbs said Petrus died of heat stroke Thursday night at a North Little Rock hospital after working outside that day at his family's shop about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Little Rock.

Like much of the country, Arkansas is in the grips of an intense heat wave. In Lonoke County, where Petrus was working, the heat index on Thursday made it feel like it was than 100 degrees (38 Celsius) outside, according to the National Weather Service.

During his college career, Petrus played alongside Razorback greats Darren McFadden and Felix Jones and later earned all-Southeastern Conference honors.

He was drafted by the Giants in the fifth round in 2010 and got into 11 regular-season games his rookie year, with no starts. In his second season, Petrus played in six regular-season games, starting three of them, as the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl. He played six games for the Giants the following season before being released. He was picked up by the New England and played two games for the Patriots before being released. Tennessee then signed him and he played two games for the Titans before the team released him the following March.

After retiring from the NFL in 2013, Petrus returned to Arkansas, where he was well-known and often appeared as a studio analyst and sidelines reporter during televised high school football games. He also had an interest in politics, serving as Republican state Sen. Dismang's chief of staff during the Legislature's 2018 session, when Dismang was the chamber's president.

"With his energy and how positive he was, he was just a perfect fit for that session," Dismang said Friday.

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Michael Vick thinks Dwayne Haskins is in the perfect situation with the Redskins

Michael Vick thinks Dwayne Haskins is in the perfect situation with the Redskins

Though Michael Vick was drafted first overall by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2001 NFL Draft, he didn't immediately become the starter. Instead, he spent most of his rookie season watching and getting accustomed to the NFL before assuming the starting job in 2002 and launching his exciting career. 

Rather than being thrown right into the fire, Vick was given time to learn and transition to the pros.

Now the newest No. 7 to enter the league, Dwayne Haskins, could find himself in a similar situation. With only one year of real experience in college, the Redskins could opt to let Haskins continue to adjust from the sideline and work under the veteran passers on the roster. 

To Vick, that path will make the transition much smoother.

"It's not difficult at all when you have an opportunity to sit behind guys like Case Keenum, who has a ton of experience and knows how to play the game. [Or] Colt McCoy," Vick said Friday on The Sports Junkies when asked about how hard the jump to the NFL will be for Haskins.

While Haskins will most likely take the starting role in the long run, Vick is fine with Keenum or McCoy taking the starting spot to begin the season.

Seeing that Haskins could benefit from the tutelage of the quarterback room in a situation where he's not being put under maximum pressure, Vick strongly believes Haskins progression will be better if it comes naturally.

The now-NFL analyst even mentioned that he talked to head coach Jay Gruden at a golf event recently and stated that Gruden told him, "It's going to take some time" with Haskins. That may not be what some fans want to hear, but Vick knows that time behind the veterans may be exactly what Haskins needs.

"It's not like he's been rushed out there to play. He has some time to develop," Vick said. "That's the most important thing for him right now."

"That's very fortunate for Dwayne to be in that position," he added.

Even as a high-profile pick coming into the league Vick's ascension to starter took time, and that decision seemed to work out pretty well for him.

The Redskins have an opportunity to do the same with Haskins, letting him ease into the NFL and take in everything he can from two veterans. According to Vick, it's the perfect scenario for a rookie QB to be in.

"You get to soak up everything, you get to gain the whole experience without having to be under pressure," Vick said. "That makes it extremely easy when you step out there for the first time."

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