On Nov. 8 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Steelers defended their domain viciously, crushing the Carolina Panthers by 31 points.
The Panthers showed life in the first quarter, as Panthers’ running back Christian McCaffrey found paydirt after receiving a 20-yard pass from quarterback Cam Newton. While showing strong rhythm and a balance between rushing and passing, the Panthers’ offense was unable to move the ball for the rest of the quarter, leading to “Big Ben” Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense running the table for the rest of the quarter.
Big Ben, getting the ball at his own 25-yard line, uncorked a bomb to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who took the ball 75 yards for the Steelers’ first touchdown of the game. On the Panthers’ ensuing drive, Newton dropped back to pass inside his own 5-yard line following a bootleg play action, and was immediately pressured by Steelers’ linebacker T.J. Watt. Newton, facing a sack and potential safety from Watt, instinctively threw the ball in an attempt to prevent the sack, but it was intercepted by fellow Steelers’ linebacker Vince Williams. Williams took the intercepted pass 17 yards to the house, putting the Steelers up 14-7.
The Panthers’ offense, well-renowned for their incredible rushing attack between McCaffrey and Newton, were unable to move the ball effectively for the remainder of the quarter, resulting in two Carolina punts. Capitalizing on their defensive superiority, the Steelers scored another touchdown, as running back James Conner capped off a 61-yard drive with a two-yard run to the endzone. This ended the first quarter with a score of 21-7.
Kicking off the second quarter, Pittsburgh received the kickoff and drove down the field, but were shut down just outside of the red zone. Settling for a 50-yard field goal from kicker Chris Boswell, the Steelers found themselves up 24-7 with more than 30 minutes of play left in the game.
The Panthers’ offense finally showed some signs of life, as McCaffrey ended a 73-yard Panthers’ drive by slipping past defenders on a 25-yard catch-and-run pass for another touchdown. Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense were firing on all cylinders, responding in timely fashion with a touchdown of their own. Roethlisberger dialed up a deep 53-yard bomb to wide receiver Antonio Brown, who beat Panthers’ rookie cornerback Donte Jackson’s coverage and ran in for the touchdown. The second quarter ended with a score of 31-14.
The second half of the game saw the Steelers’ offense storm out of the locker room with the same offensive chemistry from the first half, as Roethlisberger guided his offense 75 yards down the field, ending the drive with a pass to tight end Vance McDonald, who went vertical in the endzone to grab the 12-yard pass.
Following another Panthers’ punt, Roethlisberger and the Steelers went back to work, marching down the field once again. Roethlisberger found tight end Jesse James in the back of the end zone for the touchdown, putting the Steelers up 45-14. Newton and the Panthers’ offense were unable to find their groove, as a costly fumble by Panthers’ kick returner Curtis Samuel, recovered by Steelers’ linebacker Anthony Chickillo, gave Roethlisberger the ball back on Carolina’s 9-yard line.
The Steelers’ offense capped off their scoring bonanza with a final touchdown scored by running back Jaylen Samuels off of a short pass from Roethlisberger. McCaffrey, the only bright spot on an otherwise poor showing from the Panthers, who punched in the ball from the 1-yard line for a touchdown in the last five minutes, ending the game with the Steelers 52-21 win.
Roethlisberger finished the career performance by completing 22 of his 25 pass attempts, posting a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3. Roethlisberger’s performance, along with the Steelers’ rhythm as a team, are all coming together with perfect timing as playoff season approaches.
The only missing factor for the Steelers’ annual playoff push is All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell, who has been holding out the entirety of the season due to a contract dispute. Bell’s return is uncertain, and he only has until Tuesday, Nov. 13 to report to team facilities before he’s inactive for the entirety of the season. But the Steelers say they will welcome him with open arms. Meanwhile, the team is eager to continue on their roll.
“This is what we expected. We knew we were going to have to put up a lot of points,” said Roethlisberger. “We did that. The defense, they played like their hair was on fire.”
Roethlisberger didn’t comment on Bell’s impromptu absence.
For the Panthers, it was the end of a three-game winning streak, along with adding another loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh, a city the team has never won a game in.
In a post-game press conference, Newton elaborated on his team’s play on the night, stating, “We had a lot of noses bleeding early on. We’ve got to stop it and keep things going in our favor. We just got outplayed today.”