The Pittsburgh Steelers host the Carolina Panthers tonight at Heinz Field, where Ben Roethlisberger has never lost on Thursday night. The Steeler can get him to 7-0 in home Thursday night games with a fifth consecutive victory. At 5-2-1, they face a 6-2 Panthers team that has played very well this season.
The only notable for the Steelers’ inactives tonight is right tackle Marcus Gilbert, which means that second-year Matt Feiler will start a third consecutive game there, and the fourth of the year. Backup nose tackle Daniel McCullers is also out, meaning that L.T. Walton will dress over him. For the second week in a row, James Washington gets a helmet over Justin Hunter. The other inactives (Mason Rudolph, Zach Banner, Brian Allen, and Marcus Allen) are predictable weekly.
The Steelers kicked off to begin the game, Chris Boswell’s kick going for a touchback. Christian McCaffrey got the first touch of the game for a four-yard gain. He found a weak spot in the defense for 12 yards to the 41. A short pass to Jarius Wright added seven. McCaffrey added a big gain off the left side, with Vince Williams getting blocked up and Jon Bostic slow-footed.
To the Steelers’ 31, McCaffrey this time was tackled for a one-yard gain with Stephon Tuitt on the stop. Under pressure, Newton’s screen pass fell incomplete with Greg Olsen on the ground. Now third and nine, Newton scrambled against the Steelers’ dime defense, L.J. Fort making the tackle after an eight-yard gain. One fourth and one, McCaffrey got the handoff, and the first down.
Now at the Steelers’ 20, McCaffrey took a screen up the left side for the 20-yard score, Williams unable to get to the edge and Terrell Edmunds trumped at the goal line as the Steelers continue to struggle in the first quarter.
The Steelers taking over from the 25, Ben Roethlisberger immediately looked down the field to hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 75-yard touchdown to tie the game in a matter of seconds.
A decent Panthers return on the ensuing kickoff was negated by a holding penalty, so Newton began his second drive from the 12. Off play action, Newton faded to the end zone, but was under pressure from an unblocked T.J. Watt. Escaping a safety, the quarterback tossed the ball away, but it was intercepted by Williams for a touchdown, putting the Steelers up 14-7.
McCaffery picked up two yards on first down after a touchback. Newton was able to avoid a sack from Bud Dupree to throw the ball away and set up a third and a long eight. The Steelers blitzed with six and Coty Sensabaugh was on the defense of Newton’s third-down pass to force the first punt of the game. Ryan Switzer picked up the ball on a roll to about the 38.
Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for a seven-yard gain on a screen on first down. A Smith-Schuster block helped Brown pick up a first down on the following play. Now in their 01 personnel with Switzer on the field, checking into the backfield, he took the handoff from Roethlisberger before flipping it to Smith-Schuster for a 12-yard gain, taking a page out of the Panthers’ playbook.
From the Panthers’ 34, James Conner got his first touch of the game for a three-yard gain. He escaped a tackler for 10 yards on the following play up the middle. Roethlisberger bobbled the snap on the following play but was able to regather it and get it out to Conner for a seven-yard reception. And it was Conner again, taking the ball through the heart of the defense to get down to the two. On first and goal, Conner punched it in for his 10th rushing touchdown of the year and his 11th overall.
Williams brought Newton down for the sack on first down, beating McCaffrey in the backfield with ease. But McCaffrey helped to make up for it with an eight-yard run to make it third and five. Newton stepped up into the pocket, looking to scramble but then stopped to hit Devin Funchess for the first down.
McCaffrey got out of a Watt tackle that would have gone for a loss, picking up three before Joe Haden tackled him on the edge. A completion to Olsen added 13 across midfield. Cameron Heyward this time got to Newton for a sack and a loss of five yards. On second and 15, McCaffrey was limited to three yards to set up a third and 12. Under pressure and off his back foot, Newton couldn’t get his pass down the field, falling short of his receiver, incomplete, to force a punt. After the Panthers motioned to fake a punt, they ended up taking a delay of game instead. The punt ended up being downed at about the eight.
And Conner started off the drive with a 15-yard run. Roosevelt Nix added a first down after that. Roethlisberger had all day on a third-down play, on which he found Brown down the field for over 30 yards. Now at the Panthers’ 25, however, Roethlisberger was sacked by Julius Peppers, the first meaningful sack he has taken in four games. Now second and 16, a play-action screen went for a loss to Brown. Looking at third and 18, on the far side of field goal range, Roethlisberger’s pass over the middle was broken up by Peppers, intended for Smith-Schuster. Boswell connected from 50 yards, however, to make it 24-7.
The Panthers, now down by 17 points, looked to mount some sort of drive that they have lacked since the opening possession, and did manage to move the ball along. Even after a gadget play was busted, they still got back to the line of scrimmage, and then picked up a first down on the following play, down to the Steelers’ 30. And Then McCaffrey was left alone once again for a 30-yard reception for a score, his second explosive receiving touchdown of the first half.
Jaylen Samuels got into the game on the following drive, starting off with a five-yard run (Stevan Ridley had already been in the game, unlike on Sunday). On second down, he got it again but was tackled for a loss of a yard. On third and six, in a four-receiver set, Roethlisberger hit Switzer between four defenders for a catch-and-run of 10 to the 47. From there Roethlisberger hit Brown for a 53-yard touchdown, his 10th on the season and his seventh game in a row with a touchdown.
Newton connected with Olsen for 14 yards on second and eight after a two-yard run. From the Steelers’ 41, he found Olsen again for a shorter gain to the two-minute warning. He found Olsen a third time in a row to cross midfield.
Newton was hit by Watt from behind him, unaware, for the sack and fumble, the Panthers recovering for a nine-yard loss. Newton took a direct shot to his throwing shoulder from Watt’s helmet as the Panthers used their second timeout. Dupree supplied the pressure on second down to force a checkdown to McCaffrey to set up a third and 16. Before a false start made it third and 21. Edmunds nearly intercepted the long third-down pass, but instead, the Panthers punted and downed the ball inside the 15.
Samuels remained in the game, taking a screen pass 14 yards. He got another sort pass for just a couple of yards, inbounds as the clock ticked below 30 seconds. Roethlisberger scrambled for a first down. And then took a knee to end the half.