OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) - Less than two weeks ago, the Baltimore Ravens frustrated fleet-footed quarterback Byron Leftwich and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers to take control of the AFC North.
In the rematch Sunday, the Ravens will face a quarterback with a different skill set. Whether it will be soft-tossing Charlie Batch or the gritty and poised Ben Roethlisberger remains to be seen.
Batch went the distance last week in a loss to last-place Cleveland. The 37-year-old completed 20 for 34 passes for 199 yards but threw three interceptions, explaining in part why Pittsburgh didn't score in the second half and finished with a whopping eight turnovers.
Roethlisberger has been sidelined since hurting his ribs and right (throwing) shoulder in a Nov. 12 win over Kansas City. The two-time Super Bowl winner threw in practice this week but is questionable for Sunday.
The Ravens (9-2) have no idea whether Batch or Big Ben will be calling the signals at M&T Bank Stadium. So they're preparing for both.
``We really don't care who lines up at quarterback,'' Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard said. ``For us, it's a game that's going to be physical. They're going to try to win whoever's under center. If Ben plays, I know what kind of competitor he is. This guy is probably one of the strongest quarterbacks in the National Football League and one of the most competitive, him and Philip Rivers. But when it's all said and done, whoever lines up, lines up. We have our own situation to take care of. We really don't care.''
The Ravens can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the desperate Steelers (6-5), who have lost two straight with Roethlisberger watching from the sideline. Leftwich broke his ribs in a 13-10 loss to Baltimore on Nov. 18, and last week Batch was part of an attack that lost the ball four times in the fourth quarter.
In the days leading up to the first meeting between the teams, the Ravens knew by Wednesday that Leftwich would start at quarterback. There is no such certainty this week, but the course of action remains identical.
``We'll do the same thing we did last time and the same thing we do every week: We'll prepare for their offense,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``Whatever quarterback ends up playing in this game, he's going to be very capable of running their offense very well. We've seen that before. We've seen that from experience.''
Leftwich was rusty, yet he still managed to throw for 201 yards and score a touchdown. Batch lost last week, but he's 5-3 as a starter with Pittsburgh.
Roethlisberger is in a category of his own, with statistics and a winning percentage that can be measured up against any quarterback in the league. But he's hurting, which could influence his effectiveness.
Still, an injured Roethlisberger is better than no Roethlisberger at all.
``If he's in there, he's in there. It definitely changes things if he plays,'' Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. ``But if he doesn't play, we still have to go out there and play the game. No game is won on paper. It's still the Pittsburgh Steelers. They're going to come in, they're going to be hungry and will be trying to get a win.''
Whether it's Batch or Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh's quarterback will have more talent at his disposal than Leftwich did in the earlier meeting between these AFC North rivals. Wide receiver Antonio Brown returns after missing three games with a high-ankle sprain, and the Steelers added wideout Plaxico Burress last week.
``Obviously he's a heck of a player. A red-zone threat,'' Harbaugh said of Burress. ``He can run every route, he can make every catch. Just a great player.''
The key for the Steelers is having someone who can effectively get Burress the ball. The Ravens don't know if it will be Batch or Roethlisberger, or maybe even Leftwich again?
``We need to watch film on Leftwich, Batch and Roethlisberger,'' Pollard said. ``When it's all said and done, they still have the same concepts. We're going to be ready.''
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