PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger missed a second straight game with an injured knee, though it hardly mattered to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their other three quarterbacks were just fine.

Charlie Batch improvised a 1-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter, and his passing led to another score before he left with a broken right hand. The Steelers withstood their second QB injury in three weeks to beat the rival Cleveland Browns 34-21.

Whatever the Steelers lack in quarterback quality – and, with a 7-2 record that ties them with Cincinnati for the AFC North lead, it’s not much – they’re making up for it with depth.

Tommy Maddox replaced Batch to run an efficient and time-consuming offense in the second half, and college QB-turned-wide receiver Antwaan Randle El threw a 51-yard scoring pass to Hines Ward on a reverse early in the third quarter to put the Steelers up 24-7.

Randle El, an option quarterback at Indiana, also lined up under center and scooted for a 12-yard run later in the third quarter, about the time the Browns were wondering where all these quarterbacks were coming from.

And to think some NFL teams don’t have a single quarterback who can move an offense, much less four.

Batch, shaky the week before in a 20-10 victory at Green Bay in his first NFL start in four years, looked smooth and polished while directing the Steelers to a 17-7 halftime lead. Even when he underthrew the ball, it worked out – Cedrick Wilson shed two defenders by coming back for a 43-yard reception that led to Jerome Bettis’ 1-yard TD run midway through the second quarter.

Batch was hurt on his touchdown run with 6 seconds left in the first half, the Steelers out of timeouts and both teams scrambling to line up after Batch twice found Hines Ward to put the ball on the 1. Without waiting for a play call, Batch managed to line up the offense and score himself before the Browns’ defense was set up.

Ward also enjoyed a big game, making eight catches for 124 yards to give him 543 receptions for his career, breaking Hall of Famer John Stallworth’s team record of 537. No other receiver in team history has more than 358.

Batch’s status for the game Sunday at Baltimore is unknown, though Roethlisberger is expected to return after missing three games with a knee injury.

The Browns (3-6) lost their 10th in 11 games against Pittsburgh, and their fourth in five games overall amid a familiar story line: not enough offense. The Browns, who came into the game averaging 14.1 points, mounted a 66-yard drive on an opening possession ended by Reuben Droughns’ 5-yard TD run, but did little else until scoring two TDs in the final 4:23.

Droughns, on pace to become the Browns’ first 1,000-yard rusher in 20 years, was held to 56 yards with no run longer than 9 yards. Cleveland’s other scoring came on Leigh Bodden’s 59-yard return of a blocked field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter, then a 9-yard pass from Trent Dilfer to Antonio Bryant.

Randle El’s last two passes have gone for touchdowns; he threw a 10-yarder on his only attempt last season. He is 12-of-14 for 112 yards in his NFL career.

AP-ES-11-13-05 2354EST


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