CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Their victory was thorough enough that wide receiver Antonio Brown was able to gleefully acknowledge large sections of fans still rooting for the visitors and to bask in the chants of "Here We Go, Steelers" that were echoing throughout Bank of America Stadium during an injury timeout midway through the fourth quarter.
A large contingent of Panthers fans was headed for the exits right about then. A larger contingent was already gone.
The Steelers' three-phase effort in their 37-19 triumph was as timely as it was complete.
"We needed it bad. We did," guard David DeCastro admitted.
Now, the Steelers need to keep such a performance in perspective.
They scored touchdowns against Carolina. They ran the ball down the Panthers' throats and, when they weren't doing that they managed to keep their quarterback almost completely clean. On defense they pressured the passer, generated sacks, took the ball away and gradually took the game over. And they even scored a touchdown on special teams.
The trick now will be to repeat all of the above as necessary.
"Hopefully we can enjoy this win (Sunday night) and not be like, 'Oh, we're the greatest team ever,'" defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We gotta continue to stay grounded. We gotta continue to work hard. We gotta continue to have a chip on our shoulder and work like we're the underdogs."
Added DeCastro, "It's never as good as you think and it's never as bad, usually. We'll go back, watch the film, be objective about it and move on. Just like the Ravens game (a disheartening, 26-6 loss on Sept. 11 in Baltimore) it's one game, that's all it was."
THE FORMULA: The NFL has evolved into much more than being able to run and stop the run. But if you can't get either one of those things accomplished it's tough to do much of anything else.
The Steelers out-rushed the Panthers, 264-42, and the significance of that wasn't lost on the participants as it related to the other aspects of the Steelers' game falling into place.
"Being able to stop the run early was huge," strong safety Troy Polamalu said. "But being able to run the ball on offense was huge, as well. That epitomizes what Steelers football is all about, the way that we were able to run the ball on offense and stop the run."
Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons said the defensive line did "an awesome job" in setting both the tone and the table for the rest of the defense.
"They did a great job controlling the line of scrimmage, making it easy for guys like me, (inside linebacker Ryan) Shazier and (inside linebacker Sean) Spence to come up and make plays out there. And we did a great job tackling.
"That's the Steelers football we're used to, right? Exactly."
NEXT MAN UP: Cornerback Ike Taylor (broken forearm) was knocked out of the game with 9:41 remaining in the third quarter and the Steelers leading, 16-3. By then the Steelers already had Spence playing for Shazier (knee) and Arthur Moats at outside linebacker in place of Jarvis Jones (wrist).
With Taylor unavailable, nickel back William Gay took over at cornerback and Antwon Blake became the fifth defensive back in sub-package sets (Blake played outside and Gay in the slot in such situations).
The Panthers weren't able to exploit the attrition sustained by the Steelers' defense well enough to change the game.
"Next man up," Spence said. "Coach (Mike) Tomlin always preaches it, that no matter who's in there the standard is the standard. (On Sunday night) I think we proved that."
THEY SAID IT: "Guys get hurt, and unfortunately it happened. We've gotta move forward. We say it all the time and it might be a cliché, but this is a family. And especially those of us who have been around here for a long time together, bled together for a long time, who have hoisted that Lombardi (Trophy) together, there's a bond that will never be broken in our entire lives.
"That's what's special about playing for the Steelers. A lot of other teams don't have that. We have that. We love him. We're hoping he can come back, but we'll see." – Keisel on the severity and the emotional pain of Taylor's broken forearm.
"It's still early in the season. We call it the first quarter. It's yet to be seen. I think we can be as good as we want to be if we just don't hurt ourselves and we can stay healthy." – Ben Roethlisberger on the significance of the win in Carolina.
"Man, I'm grateful for a victory, whether it's ugly, whether it's a comeback, whether it's 100-99 or 3-0. Of course, there's a standard that we set for ourselves. We want to be able to play much better. We gave up a lot of yardage in the passing game. If we want to be able to beat elite teams we're going to have to play better." – Polamalu on the significance of the win in Carolina.