Byron Leftwich stared into the sea of cameras and started to laugh.
It’d been awhile – a long while – since the Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback found himself thrust into the spotlight. Yet three years after he last started a game and six years after he won one, the former first round draft pick will take the snaps when the streaking Steelers (6-3) host the Baltimore Ravens (7-2) with first place in the AFC North on the line.
Watching good friend and teammate Ben Roethlisberger go down with a sprained right shoulder and dislocated rib isn’t the way Leftwich wanted to step back into the spotlight. Still, it’s what the 32-year-old signed up for when he decided to re-sign with the Steelers last summer rather than try and revive his career as a starter elsewhere.
Leftwich relishes the opportunity to get back on the field. The end of life in relative anonymity? Not so much.
“I joke with Ben all the time, I don’t miss this part of being a quarterback in the NFL,” Leftwich said. “All those conference calls, all those interviews. I tell him all the time I don’t really miss that part of it.”
Maybe, but he better get used to it.
Roethlisberger is out indefinitely, the latest familiar face to be rendered highly paid bystander to one of the league’s most heated rivalries. The Steelers will also be without star safety Troy Polamalu, who will miss his sixth straight game with a right calf injury, while Baltimore captain Ray Lewis remains on the injured reserve-return list with a torn triceps.
“It’s definitely going to be different, a different feel,” Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “But once that whistle blows and the bullets become live, I don’t expect anything less than traditional Ravens/Steelers.”
Suggs admitted he’s “disappointed” he won’t get a chance to chase after Roethlisberger, though he’ll find Leftwich to be a more stationary target. The big-armed seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft hasn’t started since playing three forgettable losses with Tampa Bay in 2009. His last victory in a game in which he took the first offensive snap came on Oct. 8, 2006 when Jacksonville crushed the New York Jets.
“I haven’t heard that,” Leftwich said. “Really?”
It’s been even longer since the Steelers beat the Ravens with somebody other than Roethlisberger under center. Though he’s one of the most durable quarterbacks in the league, Roethlisberger has missed four games against Baltimore through the years. It’s not a coincidence the Steelers are 0-4 in those contests.
Yet Leftwich is confident he can be effective even if he knows he’s can’t replicate the kind of play-extending heroics that have become Roethlisberger’s trademark.
“Let’s be honest, I’m not going to run around, make 2-3 guys miss, roll all the way to the left and find Mike Wallace in the back of the end zone,” Leftwich said. “I’m not capable of doing that. But what I can do is get the ball in the right people’s hands and just be myself.”
The Steelers believe that will be enough.
Pittsburgh went 3-1 in 2010 when Roethlisberger sat out the first four games while serving a suspension for conduct detrimental to the league and Charlie Batch guided the Steelers to a 27-0 rout of St. Louis last December while Roethlisberger nursed a tender left ankle.
“Sure, we went through some games without Ben in the past, and we did all right,” Wallace said. “So, this is a completely different team, but we’ve done it before.”
Besides, the Ravens defense isn’t exactly the same menacing juggernaut that has tormented opponents over the last decade. Baltimore is ranked 26th in the league in yards against and has registered just 16 sacks.
In some ways, the balance of power has switched to the right arm of quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice. The franchise’s identity, however, remains firmly in the grasp of the defense, one that’s trying to find its way without Lewis’ emotional leadership and the playmaking ability of injured cornerback Lardarius Webb.
“When you change something, change is permanent,” Suggs said. “You don’t want to do something one week and then not do it the next. So, we fared pretty well the last two weeks, and we’re just trying to keep it going. So, it’s nothing to be happy about. Then again, it’s nothing to not look at. So, we’re just going to keep trying to get better around here.”
Something the Steelers have been doing over the last month since a miserable 2-3 start had critics touting the window for the core that’s been to three Super Bowls over the last seven seasons had finally closed.
Pittsburgh responded by winning four straight behind a defense that again is tops in the NFL in fewest yards allowed and an offense that was humming along with Roethlisberger at the peak of his powers. He was on pace for career highs in attempts, completions and touchdowns when Kansas City linebacker Tamba Hali pounded the quarterback’s right side into the Heinz Field turf on Monday night.
Now he goes from MVP candidate to mentor, doing for Leftwich what Leftwich has done for him throughout the years. Not that Roethlisberger thinks a guy who was starting in the NFL when Roethlisberger was still in college needs a pep talk every time he jogs off the field.
“Byron knows how to play this game,” Roethlisberger said. “He knows how to play at a high level and I’m just going support him and give him everything he needs.”
Leftwich isn’t overwhelmed by the pressure. He knows what’s at stake.
“I’m not going to go out there and try and be Ben,” he said. “We see the game differently. He’s physically able to do some things that I can’t do, that doesn’t mean I can’t go out there and do my job.”
Byron Leftwich stared into the sea of cameras and started to laugh.
Brewers top Pirates in game highlighted by dustup
Ryan Braun homered in the ninth inning to tie it, then Khris Davis hit a home run in the 14th that put Milwaukee ahead for good.
Yet those were hardly the big blows that attracted all the attention Sunday in the Brewers’ 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Game 3 pivotal for both teams
Not so long ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets were the worst team in the NHL.
Now they’re heading home for tonight’s Game 3 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins, hoping to make even more history.
Blue Jackets outlast Pens in double-OT
Matt Calvert banged home a rebound 1:10 into the second overtime and the Columbus Blue Jackets earned the first playoff victory in franchise history with a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury stuffed the initial shot by Cam Atkinson but Calvert stood all alone at the left post and wristed a shot into the open net to even the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at one game each.
Brewers rally to clip Pirates
Ryan Braun hit two homers, including a two-run shot with two outs in the ninth inning that sent the Milwaukee Brewers over the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 Saturday night.
Braun has five home runs this season after being suspended for the last 65 games of 2013 following Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Biogenesis drug scandal.
Area runners gearing for Boston Marathon
The time was 12:15 p.m. It was Monday April 19, 1897. Tom Burke had drawn a line across the dirt road with his foot. Eighteen men gathered near Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland, Massachusetts.
Brewers ward off late Pirates rally bid
Kyle Lohse pitched effectively into the seventh inning, Carlos Gomez homered and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 Friday night.
Lohse (3-1) improved to 11-2 in his career against the Pirates, allowing one earned run in a win against them for the second time in six days.
Drama lacking sans Tiger
If professional golf saw its future at Augusta National last weekend, the sight had to be worse than choking on a 5-foot putt.
The course was there in all its splendor.
Penguins are wary of spunky Blue Jackets
Sidney Crosby is used to the attention. It comes with the territory when you’re the best hockey player in the world.
Still, the Pittsburgh Penguins star knows the spotlight becomes more acute in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Pirates power past Brewers
Andrew McCutchen hit his first homer of the season and drove in three runs, Pedro Alvarez had a three-run shot and pinch-hitter Josh Harrison broke a tie with a long ball in the seventh inning as the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Milwaukee Brewers their first road loss, 11-2 on Thursday night.
Harrison’s two-run drive down the left field line off Rob Wooten (0-1) was the second of his career as a pinch hitter.
Jackets preparing for Game 2
The Columbus Blue Jackets don’t feel they’re doomed after blowing a two-goal lead in a Game 1 loss of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s not about missed chances, or feeling sorry about it,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said at Thursday’s optional workout, 13 hours after falling 4-3 in Pittsburgh.
- More Pro Headlines
- Brewers top Pirates in game highlighted by dustup