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Steelers hanging around behind resurgent Batch

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Steelers hanging around behind resurgent Batch

PITTSBURGH (AP) Larry Foote has no illusions about the Pittsburgh Steelers catching the Baltimore Ravens to win the AFC North even after Sunday's emotionally charged 23-20 victory over their bitter rivals.

He doesn't exactly care either.

Sure, homefield in the playoffs - if the Steelers manage to make it - would be nice. But the 32-year-old doesn't believe it's necessary for Pittsburgh to get where it wants to go.

``We've just got to get a ticket,'' Foote said. ``The last few years, the Giants have done it, and Green Bay has done it.''

Heck, so have the Steelers (7-5), who revived their season in a dramatic fourth quarter in which they scored 10 points to snap Baltimore's 15-game home winning streak.

Pittsburgh won three road playoff games on its way to the 2006 Super Bowl, a route it would like have to travel again if the Ravens can maintain their two-game lead over the Steelers and Bengals with a month to go in the season.

It's a cushion Foote doesn't see evaporating.

``I'm sure they're probably going to win the division,'' Foote said. ``I can't see them losing two more games.''

If Foote and the rest of his fellow 30-somethings can continue to muster the toughness they showed while rallying past the Ravens, they might not lose two more games between now and next season, either.

In one of the toughest places in the NFL to play - let alone win - backup quarterback Charlie Batch passed for 276 yards, directed two late scoring drives and played like someone ready to turn 28, not 38.

Linebacker James Harrison and his aching 34-year-old knees strip-sacked Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco to set up the game-tying touchdown and 31-year-old safety Troy Polamalu's presence seemed to energize a defense that lacked the kind of ``splash plays'' that have been the unit's calling card under coordinator Dick LeBeau.

It was a vintage performance few outside the locker room expected.

Not without Ben Roethlisberger, whose sprained right shoulder relegated him to the role of head cheerleader for a third straight week. Not with a patchwork offensive line that included a rookie seventh-round draft pick making his first NFL start. Not with cornerback Ike Taylor going down on the game's second play with an ankle injury so severe he could miss his first game in eight years when the Steelers host San Diego on Sunday.

Yet the Steelers survived anyway, evening the season series with the Ravens and postponing Baltimore's division title plans for at least a week or two.

``We're still alive,'' safety Ryan Clark said. ``But we need some more games like this.''

Pittsburgh just might get them.

The Steelers play three of their final four at home starting with the reeling Chargers (4-8). Roethlisberger is one week closer to getting back on the field, though the offense appears to be in good hands until his return after Batch avoided the three-interception nightmare that cost Pittsburgh so dearly in a loss to Cleveland a week ago.

Save for a late interception - one the defense quickly atoned for - and an overthrow of a wide-open Mike Wallace at the end of the first half, Batch was efficient and poised. He completed 25 of 36 passes, including a touchdown to Heath Miller that tied the game late and was a perfect 5 of 5 on the game-winning drive.

How good was Batch? His 276 yards were the most he's thrown in a game since Nov. 18, 2001 while playing for the Detroit Lions.

To put that in perspective, Roethlisberger was a freshman at Miami (Ohio) the last time Batch had a better day as a pro.

``I've been in the league 15 years,'' Batch said. ``I've been a starter in this league, and the one thing you can't do is dwell on the past. It's a long season, and no matter what, all I can ask for is another opportunity.''

He may get another one next weekend, four days after he turns 38. Batch is the oldest player in a locker room filled with guys closer to the end of their career than the beginning. That experience allows him to play with an even keel that guards against panic when things don't go as planned. It also allows him to summon a sense of urgency when necessary.

Batch had both on a day the Steelers provided a reminder that the core group that's won two Super Bowl rings in the last eight years isn't quite done yet.

``Charlie came in and played the game that we needed him to play today to win,'' Harrison said. ``It's not surprising to us. It may be to you, but not to us.''

While Polamalu's return was quieter, it was no less impactful. The perennial All-Pro has been dogged by a strained right calf that has limited him to all of five quarters before Sunday. He eased his way back in, taking the occasional breather to make sure he didn't overtax himself.

The result was a defense that limited Flacco to 16 of 34 passing for 188 yards and sacked him three times on an afternoon that felt like old times for a bunch of old guys.

``You know (Polamalu) is going to make a big play when it's time,'' nose tackle Casey Hampton said. ``Just to have him down the stretch, we know we're going to need him, because it's time for us to make a run.''

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Keenan Questions?: 5 observations from Day 3 of Ravens training camp

Keenan Questions?: 5 observations from Day 3 of Ravens training camp

OWINGS MILLS – Five observations from Day 3 of Ravens training camp on Saturday, the first practice with players wearing pads:

1. Running back Terrance West looks slimmer, quicker, and impressive both running and pass catching.

West had another strong day of practice, and got plenty of reps with both Kenneth Dixon (knee) and Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) still out. Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, and Dixon are considered locks to make the 53-man roster. But West, a former Towson star and Baltimore product, could finally be realizing his potential after disappointing stops with the Browns and Titans. West could force the Ravens to keep four running backs, in addition to fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

2. Keenan Reynolds needs to step up his performance at wide receiver.

A host of wide receivers are performing better than Reynolds, who is trying to transition from Navy quarterback to NFL wide receiver. Reynolds had a couple of drops the first three days of practice, and has been unable to get open consistently. Meanwhile, wide receiver Chris Matthews had another strong day, as did Michael Campanaro. Reynolds can help the Ravens as a returner, but they have other players who can fill that role. For Reynolds to secure a roster spot, he needs to show he can help the Ravens as a receiver. Otherwise, the Ravens will face a difficult decision regarding Reynolds, a local fan favorite.

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3. The way Kamalei Correa and Zach Orr are performing, the Ravens may not need to sign a veteran inside linebacker.

Correa had a sparkling one-handed interception Saturday, showing his hands and athleticism. Orr has been reading plays quickly and keeping himself around the football. Even if Correa wins the job at inside linebacker next to C. J. Mosley, there could be reps for Orr as well, giving the Ravens a promising young combo.

4. Saturday was not a crisp day for the offense.

The defense was the better unit, as the offense looked sloppy at times. There were a couple of bad snaps out of the shotgun from center Jeremy Zuttah, and a few false starts from the offensive line. There is plenty of time for cleanup before Week 1, but it’s not what the coaches want to see.

5. QB Joe Flacco and TE Dennis Pitta continued to look good.

Saturday made three straight days of practice for Flacco with no noticeable limping or discomfort. Flacco may be wearing a red jersey, but there have been no red flags regarding his surgically-repaired knee. Meanwhile, Pitta took a solid hit from Orr while attempting to make a catch, but Pitta jumped right to his feet. This was another good day for Pitta in his comeback from his second major hip injury.

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DT Jernigan leaves practice early, WR Moore does not practice

DT Jernigan leaves practice early, WR Moore does not practice

OWINGS MILLS – Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan left Saturday’s practice early, while rookie wide receiver Chris Moore did not practice.  Coach John Harbaugh did not meet with the media after practice, and no reason was immediately given for either absence. ESPN reported that Jernigan suffered a minor rib area strain that was not considered serious.

Cornerback Jerraud Powers took the field for this first training camp practice, after finally passing the conditioning test. Powers was the lone player remaining who had not passed the test.

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In addition to the five players on the PUP list, tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring) and running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) did not practice.

In a roster move, the Ravens signed punter Michael Palardy to fill their open roster spot. Sam Koch, a Pro Bowl selection in 2015, is firmly entrenched as the Ravens’ punter. However, Palardy can take practice reps while the Ravens work their punt returners, reducing some of the strain on Koch’s leg.

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Why Yanda knows offensive success hinges on ability to protect Flacco

Why Yanda knows offensive success hinges on ability to protect Flacco

OWINGS MILLS - One of Marshal Yanda’s top priorities is to make sure the offensive line does its best to keep Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco healthy, unlike 2015, when Flacco suffered a season-ending knee injury. Having made five straight Pro Bowls as a right guard, Yanda is beginning his 10th NFL season, and his ninth season with Flacco as his quarterback. Yanda knows that much of the Ravens’ offensive success depends on Flacco staying healthy.

“We haven’t really talked about it specifically,” Yanda said. “But obviously, you know as an offensive line, we talk about it, and you coach it. You’re going to keep your guys as far away from the quarterback as possible. Obviously, there is probably more emphasis this year with the knee.”

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When Flacco sees game action for the first time this season, Yanda doesn’t expect his quarterback to play tentatively due to his knee.

“He’s going to have to make his read,” Yanda said. “We have certain plays where he is going to be on the move, no matter what. We know about it: it is conscious in my mind; it is conscious in the offensive line’s mind and his mind, too. I feel like he just has to play through that. I had a knee (injury) once before, and he just has to get reps and get comfortable with the way it is feeling now. It will always feel a little different. That is just normal. It will continue to get normal as he keeps playing.”