After further review …
On the first snap of the game the Steelers' run defense made a statement.
It was one they continued to make all day, one they can continue to make the rest of the way and one that can continue to resonate no matter what happens regarding the playoffs.
"If we wanna win games, it comes down to stopping the run," defensive tackle Cam Heyward insisted.
It did on Sunday against the Panthers.
It did on Dec. 11 against the Ravens, as well.
And it will against the Raiders, Ravens and Browns to close out the regular season.
How much better were the Steelers in that department against Carolina than they had been against Baltimore?
The Ravens ran it three times for 13 yards with their third-string quarterback in the game for the first down that allowed them to run out the clock in what became a 16-14 win over the Steelers two Sundays ago.
The Panthers ran it 16 times for 21 yards all day yesterday in what became a resounding, potentially reassuring, 24-16 victory for the Steelers at Bank of America Stadium.
This was a Carolina team that came in ranked No. 13 in the NFL in rushing but one that had been running wild of late, one that had found an identity and a winning formula on the ground, one that had averaged 169 rushing yards per game over its last four games and 204.0 through its last two.
For a Steelers' run defense that had consistently struggled against Top 10 rushing attacks, this one loomed as a potential mismatch.
As it turned out it was, but it ended up being the Panthers who were mismatched against the Steelers.
From the very first snap.
The Panthers handed the ball to running back D'Onta Foreman, who ran left behind tight end Ian Thomas and motioning tight end Tommy Tremble.
The Steelers countered with a formation that included outside linebacker T.J. Watt lined up off the ball and in the middle of the defense, and with strong safety Terrell Edmunds in the box.
Watt followed Tremble's motion and shot what became the gap between Tremble and left guard Brady Christensen. Nose tackle Montravius Adams pushed center Bradley Bozeman 2 yards back off the line of scrimmage. And defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi shot the gap between right tackle Taylor Moton and right guard Austin Corbett.
Loss of 1, second-and-11.
And so, it went.
Watt attributed what became the run defense's best effort of the season to "a little bit of schematics, a little bit of guys just getting off blocks."
Heyward was even more direct in assessing what had changed so dramatically for a run defense that had hemorrhaged a season-worst 215 yards to the Ravens, including those 13 when a three-and-out was needed to have a chance to steal the game late and it was apparent Baltimore was about to run the ball.
"We just played better, honestly," he said. "Myself, I wasn't gonna give up that freakin' 40-yard run again."
It started with a rare, padded practice on Wednesday (there are precious few opportunities afforded to teams to conduct those, particularly late in a season).
And Watt referenced an "energy" at practice throughout the week.
Heyward also cited "holding each other accountable and understanding it's a group effort.
"This running football, it comes down to, not 9-on-7, because I think you can get caught into a trap when you think that," he continued. "I think it comes down to 11-on-11, because corners gotta fill, safeties gotta fill. Everybody just played downhill today."