STEELERS 27, PANTHERS 3
Steelers' record: 11-4
One year ago: 8-7
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 4-1
At any point during the past nine months since the start of the offseason program, if the Steelers had been posed with the scenario that wins in their final two games would give them the division title and a first-round playoff bye, they would have taken it immediately. Well, the Steelers were exactly there after 14 games, and the first of those last two games was against the 2-12 Carolina Panthers.
The early portion of this game was going to be important, because the Panthers were going to need some good things to happen for them early to build the confidence they would need to pull off the upset. Nothing good really happened for them early – there was no opening kickoff return for a touchdown, and their first offensive possession ended in a punt. By the end of the first half, the Steelers had built a 20-0 lead.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT
The 43-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace marked the seventh time the pair had hooked up for a touchdown of 40-plus yards. That tied the team record held by Bubby Brister and Louis Lipps.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
* Jason Baker's punt from the Pittsburgh 32-yard line looked to be downed at the 1-yard line, but Marcus Hudson's foot touched the goal line before he downed the ball, which made the play a touchback and the Steelers took over at the 20-yard line.
- At the change of the quarter, the Panthers went from lining up to punt from the Steelers' 32-yard line to going for the first down. James Farrior sacked Jimmy Clausen on the play, and the Steelers took over on their 36-yard line. The sack was Farrior's sixth of the season, which tied a career high.
- Three plays after Bryant McFadden's interception, Ben Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace with a quick throw and the speedy receiver split linebacker Nic Harris and safety Charles Godfrey to complete a 43-yard touchdown play that gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead with 10:16 left in the first half.
- What looked to be another red zone failure turned into the Steelers' third touchdown of the game when Richard Marshall was flagged for pass interference in the end zone on an incompletion to Hines Ward. Three plays later, Roethlisberger's sneak made it 27-0 with 5:05 left in the third quarter.
WHAT WENT WRONG
* On a third-and-goal from the 8-yard line, a Ben Roethlisberger pass to Emmanuel Sanders was called a touchdown, but after Panthers coach John Fox challenged the play, referee Bill Leavy ruled Sanders lost control of the ball when he hit the ground. Shaun Suisham then kicked a field goal for a 3-0 lead with 3:47 left in the first quarter.
- It's not something that's seen very often, an offensive lineman being replaced in the middle of a series when injury wasn't an issue. That's what happened with Jonathan Scott, however, in the game's first series. After the Steelers drove from their own 20-yard line to a first-and-10 at the Carolina 11-yard line, Rashard Mendenhall was dumped in the backfield for a 5-yard loss. Trai Essex was sent into the game to replace Scott, who came to the sideline and threw his helmet to the ground in apparent disgust. Scott was back in at left tackle for the next offensive series.
- Suisham came into the game having made 15 in a row from 40-49 yards, but he was wide right on a 41-yard attempt on the final play of the first half to snap the streak.
- The Steelers came into the game ranked 25th in the NFL in red zone offense, with a touchdown percentage of 46.2. That number is going to be worse next week, because they converted just 2-for-6 red zone opportunities against a Panthers defense that was allowing touchdowns 49.1 percent of the time.
With the game against the Panthers coming as it did just four days following the loss to the New York Jets, there wasn't a lot of recuperation time for the Steelers' walking wounded.
Troy Polamalu missed a second consecutive game with an injury to his lower leg, and it wasn't immediately known what his status might be for the regular season finale in Cleveland. Arnaz Battle sustained a chest injury in the loss to the Jets, and after being unable to practice he was inactive vs. the Panthers as well.
Heath Miller was able to return to practice, such as it was on the short week leading up to the Panthers game, and he started and led the team with five catches.
The win last Thursday night could end up being a costly one for the Steelers, because both Mewelde Moore and Jason Worilds sustained knee injuries. After the game, Coach Mike Tomlin didn't have any definitive information, but he did say both players were undergoing scans.
Typically, the Steelers' in-game announcement of a player's injury usually includes listed his return as questionable, but in Worilds' case they ruled him out. That could mean he sustained a serious injury.