PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – It was a short turnaround following a tough loss last weekend, but the Steelers managed a decisive win Thursday night at Heinz Field over the Carolina Panthers.
Winning their fifth in six games means the Steelers might eliminate a wild-card playoff game from their January calendar.
The Steelers, who bounced back from Sunday’s 22-17 loss to the New York Jets, will wrap up the AFC North and the first-round bye if they beat Cleveland on Jan. 2. The Browns (5-9) could end the division race even earlier than that if they upset the Baltimore Ravens (10-4) at home on Sunday.
The Steelers (11-4) put away the Panthers (2-12) in about the least time possible.
Ben Roethlisberger’s deep throws resulted in a touchdown, set up another and pushed the Steelers into a 20-0 halftime lead.
Mike Wallace scored on a 45-yard touchdown pass during his sixth 100-yard game this season, one off the Steelers’ record.
Emmanuel Sanders’ 35-yard catch led to Rashard Mendenhall’s 1-yard touchdown run. Shaun Suisham added two field goals.
After the game, the Steelers were happy with their performance, but said that there is always room for improvement.
“We are far from perfect, but it was good enough for a win tonight,” said head coach Mike Tomlin. “We will continue to look at the areas where we fall short and hopefully improve and push forward to next week. That’s not going to be easy going to Cleveland and we’ll be prepared for that.”
“I left a lot out there again. We got the win, which is great. It feels good, especially at this time of year, but I still left a couple throws out there and a couple things here and there that I’ve got to improve on,” added Roethlisberger. “We’re always striving to get better and do some better things and everyday and every game, we get a little bit better.”
For the Panthers, Jonathan Stewart, averaging 115 yards in his previous four games, ran for 71 yards on 18 carries, but rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen finished 10 of 23 for 72 yards.
Clausen drove the Panthers to the Pittsburgh 32 on each of their first two drives, but neither produced any scoring – and that was about it for the rest of the game, other than a late John Kasay 27-yard field goal.
Just after the game ended, the National Hockey League took over the stadium to begin building the outdoor hockey rink for the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.
Within 90 minutes, the goal posts and team benches had vanished as they get everything set for the annual hockey event.
The Steelers last regular season game, when they face the Browns on Jan. 2, will be played on the road. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will face off on Jan. 1 inside Heinz Field.