The Pittsburgh Steelers just turned in one of their most complete and dominant performance of the Mike Tomlin era, throttling the 6-2 Carolina Panthers 52-21 to give themselves a 6-2-1 record on the season and securing their top stop in the AFC North for another week, though they don’t have great up of gaining ground on the top two teams. The 8-1 Kansas City Chiefs play the 2-6 Arizona Cardinals, and the 7-2 New England Patriots get the 4-4 Tennessee Titans.
Despite their currently cozy situation, riding a five-game winning streak, Head Coach Mike Tomlin was quick to observe in the afterglow of a dominant victory that they had a “really big performance against a really good team on a short week”, giving them a lot to be proud of, “but we are probably not that good”.
In fairness, they are probably not that good. They had their backup quarterback in playing mop-up duty against a team that had a .750 winning percentage in the second half of the season. That’s not something that you are going to see too often.
The Steelers put up 457 yards of offense, averaging very nearly eight yards per play, still managing a slight edge in time of possession in spite of a defensive score and a one-play scoring drive on offense and another drive that started from the nine-yard line.
They also held the Panthers to just 257 yards of total offense, in spite of the fact that they spent the vast majority of the game trailing by seven points or more. They went eight for 11 on third down while holding the Panthers to four for 11, which included a conversion in garbage time.
They also protected the football, and the quarterback, well, while taking the ball away twice—once on defense, once on special teams—and bringing down Cam Newton five times. Newton had only been sacked an average of 1.5 times per game leading up to last night.
“You get games like that sometimes”, Tomlin said, where “the ball gets rolling downhill. We’re appreciative of it. It was a great atmosphere tonight. We’ll enjoy this long weekend and get ready to roll up our sleeves and fight again”. He later reiterated, “we were fortunate. The ball was rolling downhill tonight. You’d like to think you’re that good, but you’re probably not.
This game certainly rolled downhill over the Panthers. I would say pretty much everybody except Christian McCaffrey, who scored three touchdowns, but he was bowled over several times in pass protection, including for at least two of the Steelers’ five sacks. One by Vince Williams and another by Cameron Heyward.
Offensively, it didn’t look like there was anything the team couldn’t do. They hit big plays, they converted in key moments. They never even punted while Ben Roethlisberger was in the game. The defense put relentless pressure on the quarterback.
Are they that good? Probably not. But are they good enough to beat any team in the league? I think so.