Even the best defense in the NFL can’t do all that well when it gets no time to rest, as the Carolina Panthers slowly sank in a 37-19 home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers as Cam Netwon was getting roughed up, while Ben Roethlisberger was having a special kind of throwing day, especially when targeting Antonio Brown.
It’s been a while since the Panthers lost at home, but playing with a quarterback that has his wings clipped from the get go can’t work against every team. Newton started out well in the first drive with four completions for 52 yards, but the moment the Steelers realized he can hardly move, it became quite easy for them to make the drives very short for the Panthers. Carolina had a bad day on the offensive line and running the ball, finishing with just 42 rushing yards, just 7 for Newton.
He found it hard to avoid a three-man pass rush at times. He was sacked “just” three times, but almost every attempt to rattle him or make him run out of the pocket or hurry his pass worked for the Steelers, who lost three players to injuries on defense during the game, including Ike Taylor breaking his arm. For at least one night, the Steelers looked more like the team they’ve been known to be during their three Super Bowl run in the previous decade – running the ball and having a very stingy defense.
Their touchdown drought continued through the first two quarters, but they did enter the halftime break with a 9-3 lead thanks to field goals, making it eight consecutive quarters without a touchdown. But the Panthers defense started making mistakes, and Roethilsberger made the most of that. In the first half it was all about screen passes and being careful. In the second half the big plays opened up for him, and he took full advantage of that.
Roethilsberger found Antonio Brown for 7-yard touchdown passes twice in the third quarter, finishing with 22-of-30 for 196 yards. He was 10-of-10 when targeting Brown, who finished with 90 yards. The second half was more of the same, although the Panthers finally started putting some points on the board (Newton pass to Olsen in the endzone, Derek Anderson finding Benjamin for a meaningless touchdown). LeGarrette Blount scored a touchdown on a big day for him with 117 yards and Robert Golden recovered a fumble to score a defensive touchdown.
It was a very big day for Le’Veon Bell. He didn’t score a touchdown, but he had one rush for 81-yards to set up a touchdown and finished with 147 on 21 carries. The Steelers finished with 264 yards on 34 carries and avoided any turnovers. Cam Netwon fumbled the ball once, his first turnover of the season, and wide receiver Philly Brown fumbled the ball twice, failing to recover it once which led to the Golden touchdown.
For the Panthers, this game makes them think long and hard about how healthy exactly is Newton, who was roughed up quite badly during the game, eventually leaving to make way for Derek Anderson. Their defense is excellent, but without an offense to give it some breathing room, what’s the point?
The Steelers showed great character in bouncing back after a very rough loss to Baltimore. With more key losses on defense, it might be too soon to expect these kind of performances every week, but finally the ground game seems to be working and Roethlisberger got himself a rare game with enough time from the offensive line to make some big plays.