Steelers stay unbeaten by handing Bucs their first loss

TAMPA, Fla. -- Charlie Batch doesn't pretend to be a savior.

His job is to help Pittsburgh continue winning while Ben Roethlisberger is on suspension, and the 35-year-old quarterback just wants to do his part.

"These opportunities don't come often right now," the 13-year veteran said Sunday after making his first start in nearly three years and helping the Steelers remain unbeaten with a 38-13 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"Everybody knows Ben's the starter," Batch added. "One thing I didn't want to do was be that weak link, to go out there and not be able to provide a spark or put this team in the end zone."

Batch threw for 186 yards and two long touchdowns to Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 143 yards and one score, and Pittsburgh's defense delivered another strong performance with Brett Keisel returning an interception 79 yards for a fourth-quarter TD.

The Steelers improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2007, despite playing without Roethlisberger, who's serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Dennis Dixon started the previous two games, but was lost to a knee injury last week. That opened the door for Batch.

"This is where we expected to be at this point," Batch said. "I know a lot of people on the outside did not believe that. But for us, we're just taking it one game at a time."

Wallace scored on catches of 46 and 41 yards during a stretch where Pittsburgh, which did little offensively the first two weeks of the season, scored on four straight possessions to build a 28-6 halftime lead.

Tampa Bay's Aqib Talib intercepted Batch's first pass of the day to set up a 40-yard field goal, but Bucs fans -- seemingly lost in the sea of gold-clad Steeler supporters who gave Raymond James Stadium the look and feel of Heinz Field -- had little to cheer about the rest of the way.

Josh Freeman led one long drive for Tampa Bay (2-1), however the nearly nine-minute drive only produced a second-quarter field goal. The Buccaneers finished with 303 yards total offense, but couldn't get into the end zone until backup quarterback Josh Johnson got them there in the closing minutes.

"Field goals don't win games in this league," Freeman said.

"We played a heavyweight," Bucs coach Raheem Morris added. "They were more physical, more aggressive and more opportunistic."

Batch victimized rookie Cody Grimm, starting in place of suspended safety Tanard Jackson, on his first TD pass to Wallace. Wallace, who had three catches for 100 yards, hauled in a pass that Talib tipped in the right corner of the end zone for his second score.

The Steelers' rejuvenated running game did its part, too, with Mendenhall averaging 7.5 yards per carry and doing most of his damage in the second half. The defense sacked Freeman three times and added two more turnovers to the NFL-leading eight it took into the game.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers expect to find a way to be successful.

"The standard is winning," Tomlin said. "The 11 on the field represent us. They're capable, and they embrace it."

Freeman completed 20 of 31 passes for 184 yards and one interception before being removed with the Steelers up by 32 points in the fourth quarter. Backup Josh Johnson led a late scoring drive, with rookie LeGarrette Blount covering the final yard on fourth-and-goal.

It was only the second touchdown the Pittsburgh defense has allowed this season.

"That was a good team, and I think we learned a lot from it," Freeman said. "They dominated us on the scoreboard, but at the same time I feel like our team's mentality walking away is that we could've played with those guys."

Pittsburgh threw a league-low 43 passes in its first two games, beating Atlanta and Tennessee primarily by running the ball and playing ballhawking defense. The Steelers forced seven turnovers against the Titans and limited Chris Johnson to 34 yards rushing on 16 attempts, ending his streak of 12 consecutive 100-yard games.

Batch mixed the pass with the run to keep the Bucs on their heels, even reverting to the early days on his 13-year career when he scrambled up the middle for 24 yards on third-and-6 to prolong a 67-yard drive that Mendenhall capped with his 3-yard TD run for a 14-6 lead.

Batch completed 11 of his first 14 passes, with two of the incompletions coming on a drop and a spike to stop the clock before throwing a 9-yard TD pass to Hines Ward just before halftime. The Steelers, who had 201 yards rushing, only threw three times in the second half.

"He played like a veteran. ... He didn't blink," Tomlin said. "He's been a consummate professional and team player, and good things usually happen for those kind of people."

Game notes
The Steelers visited Raymond James Stadium for the first time since winning the Super Bowl there two seasons ago. ... Ward has caught a pass in 181 consecutive games. ... Blount led Tampa Bay with 27 yards rushing on 6 attempts.