The Pittsburgh Steelers pulverized the Carolina Panthers 52-10 on Thursday Night Football, easily giving Mike Tomlin’s team their best performance of the season to date far. Just how dominant was Pittsburgh’s performance? Consider:
- Ben Roethlisberger launched two 50 yard plus bombs for touchdowns
- The Steelers defense scored on a pick six
- Roosevelt Nix and Anthony Chickillo setup another touchdown with forced a fumble on a kickoff return
So the Steelers offense, defense and special teams each authored dramatic Splash Plays that, on one level, had a decisive impact on the outcome. But viewed from another angle, the Steelers performance revealed a bit of a different truth about football: For Splash Plays to be decisive, they must be backed by sound fundamental football.
From Down 0-7 to Up 14-7 in 0:24 Seconds….
A lot of good quotes surfaced after the game, but perhaps the best came from Panthers tight end Greg Olsen: “Yeah, we got the ball at the jump, right down the field, scored. Two plays later, we’re down 14-7.”
- While it will long be forgotten, things did NOT start out well for the Steelers.
Going into the game stopping Carolina’s high-octane offense was paramount. And the Panthers opened with a 6 play 75 yard drive that featured a lot of Christian McCaffrey and Cam Newton, with Pittsburgh looking powerless to slow, let alone stop the duo.
But when two Carolina corners collided on what was to be a short pass to James Washington, Ben Roethlisberger hurled a bomb to JuJu Smith-Schuster who took it to the house.
- The record will reflect that Carolina’s lead would last all of 0:11 seconds.
They fared a little better with a tie, to the tune of 0:13 seconds, as T.J. Watt wrapped Cam Newton in the end zone. Newton, like Roethlisberger is tough to bring down, and he resisted long enough to save a safety by tossing the ball away, but he didn’t intend hitting Vince Williams, who took the interception to the house giving the Steelers a 14-7 lead.
However, when asked if that was the decisive sequence of the game, Mike Tomlin balked:
…we’ve seen that so many times. There is too much ball after that to think that is the defining moment. It’s not. It was a great moment but whether it was positive or negative the games are never defined by plays that occur that early.
And Mike Tomlin is right. A big play’s impact only reverberates through the end result of the game if you follow solid fundamental football, which is indeed what the Steelers delivered in the game’s remaining forty nine minutes and 55 seconds of play.
Next Six Series Prove to be Decisive for Pittsburgh
While the plays perhaps don’t provide much in the way of ESPN highlight material, its entirely possible that the series following Vince Williams’ Pick Six was the most important of the night.
- Javon Hargrave stuffed Christian McCafferty for a 1 yard gain on first.
- The Steelers defense confused Cam Newton, forcing him to burn a time out.
- It didn’t matter, as Bud Dupree forced him into an incompletion anyway
- Coty Sensabaugh batted away a pass intended for D.J. Moore
Instead of answering the Steelers score, Carolina had to punt. That in turn allowed the Steelers to lean on James Conners on the ensuring drive to build a 14 point advantage. By the time Carolina got within sniffing distance of another score, a 50 yard Chris Boswell field goal had already given the Steelers a 17 point advantage.
Carolina did indeed cut the Steelers advantage to 10 on another Christian McCafferty touchdown, but it took Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown less than 2 minutes to put the Steelers back up by 17 when the duo hooked up on a 53 yard touchdown play.
2nd Half: Anatomy of a Rout
For the second straight week the Steelers started the second half by getting the ball, and for the second straight week Randy Fichtner’s offense opened by engineering a long, clock consuming drive.
This one saw the Steelers convert 3 third downs, and burn more than 6 minutes off of the clock, as Vance McDonald pulled down a touchdown to put the Steelers up 38 to 14.
Carolina started the first half soundly, as Christian McCafferty got 5 yards on his opening carry. However, Bud Dupree sacked Cam Newton for an 11 yard loss on the next play, and Carolina’s first drive ended in a punt. The rout was on.
Mike Tomlin went into the game planning to play every player with a helmet, and every player had a piece of the victory.
- Jesse James and Jaylen Samuels scored touchdowns
- Cam Heyward exploded for two sacks of Cam Newton
- Darrius Heyward-Bey even managed to log a catch
- Jon Bostic, L.J. Fort and Mike Hilton managed to drop Carolina ball carriers in the backfield
Joshua Dobbs did lose the perfect passer rating he’d taken out of the Ravens game, but that is a small price to pay for seeing your 2nd string quarterback come out for clean up duty in the 4th quarter.
While the win over the Panthers was truly a team effort, any analysis must acknowledge the exceptional play by Ben Roethlisberger, who en route a perfect passer rating game managed to convert third downs at will, while throwing 5 touchdown passes to 5 different players.
Tomlin’s Challenge Coming out of the Carolina Game
As noted in our Report Card, the last time the Steelers played at night in Heinz Field it appeared to be lights out for Pittsburgh. On Thursday Night Football, the Steelers dominated a hot team and one that is a legitimate NFC contender.
The progress is unquestionably positive, but Mike Tomlin’s challenge is to ensure that the Steelers performance against the Panthers doesn’t represent Pittsburgh’s peak. Fortunately, Mike Tomlin appears to understand that as he explained:
Really big performance against versus a really good team on a short week so there is a lot to be proud of, but we are probably not that good. You get games like that sometimes. The ball gets rolling down hill, we are appreciative of it.
If Mike Tomlin can get his team to internalize that attitude, then the Steelers stand a strong chance of gaining a measure of revenge against the Jaguars next Sunday in Jacksonville.