Pre-match predictions stated that Thursday night's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Carolina Panthers would be a close one. In the end, that was far from the case as the Steelers thumped the Panthers 52-21.
The first turnover of the night gives Pittsburgh the momentum
After an opening drive touchdown by the Panthers which saw Cam Newton connect with Christian McCaffrey on a 25-yard touchdown pass, the Steelers answered back with a one play drive that saw Ben Roethlisberger find Juju Smith-Schuster on a 75-yard touchdown pass. With the game looking like it might turn into a shoot out between the two offenses, the Steelers defense came up big as pressure by T.J. Watt forced Newton into throwing a wayward pass to prevent the safety. Vince Williams picked off the pass and scored a 17-yard touchdown. That was all the Steelers defense needed to ramp up their play and they only conceded one more touchdown to Carolina on a busted coverage play in the first half.
Meanwhile, the Steelers offensive line was giving Roethlisberger all the time in the world to pick his passes which led to the Steelers picking up points on every possession they had. James Conner extended Pittsburgh's lead in the second offensive drive of the game with a two-yard run, Chris Boswell kicked a 50-yard field goal and Antonio Brown had a 53-yard touchdown reception.
The Panthers' adjustments do not make a difference in the second half
After the break, many would have thought that Carolina had made some adjustments to not only contend with the Steelers offensive line but also stop the Steelers pass rush from getting to Newton so regularly. That did not happen and things went from bad to worse later on when Eric Reid got ejected from the game for a flagrant foul on Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger found Vance McDonald on a 12-yard touchdown pass, the other tight end Jesse James got in on the scoring with a eight-yard touchdown reception and Jaylen Samuels got his first ever National Football League rushing touchdown with a six-yard run.
The Steelers defense were just as dominant in the second half as they were in the first and kept from scoring any points until near the end of the game when Pittsburgh had rested most of their starters and McCaffrey got his third touchdown with a one-yard run up the middle. The Steelers recorded five sacks and one interception but they got to Newton on almost every play and either stopped the Panthers quarterback from completing his passes or made him rush his throws. The Pittsburgh special teams also got in the act to complete a near perfect performance from the Steelers as Roosevelt Nix stripped Curtis Samuel during a punt and Anthony Chickillo recovered the ball which led to Samuels' touchdown.
On a short week, Pittsburgh could not have wished for a better home outing especially against a team that was rolling as well while the Panthers will want to wipe this game away from memory as soon as possible.
The two teams look to be headed in two different directions
Before last night's game, the Panthers were in red hot form and were staying close to division leaders, New Orleans Saints, but with this loss and the magnitude of this loss, this could be the turning point of the Panthers season. The Panthers will play the Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a NFC South divisional match up before facing off against the Saints in their first meeting of the season. By the time the face the Saints, their playoffs hopes could be all but done and with the way the Saints are playing, the Panthers season could be over after that first match up in Week 15.
The Steelers on the other hand, are on a roll. With their win over the Panthers, Pittsburgh have won five straight games and not only lead the AFC North but are in pole position to make the playoffs once again. Their schedule is a little tougher in the remaining weeks (the face the New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Chargers and the Saints before finishing the season against the Cincinnati Bengals) than the Panthers but with the lead they have in the division, their playoff aspirations are very much attainable.
Carolina Panthers 21 - 52 Pittsburgh Steelers
C. Newton: 23/29, 193 YDS, 2 TD, 1 INT; C. McCaffrey: 77 YDS, 1 TD; C. McCaffrey: 61 YDS, 2 TD.
B. Roethlisberger: 22/25, 328 YDS, 5 TD; J. Conner: 65 YDS, 1 TD; A. Brown: 96 YDS, 1 TD; J. Smith-Schuster: 90 YDS, 1 TD.