What transpired was anything but competitive.
Most around the NFL anticipated a highly-competitive game between the red-hot Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday Night Football.
Carolina had won three consecutive games while the Steelers were in the midst of a four-game winning streak. What transpired was anything but competitive.
Cam Newton threw an early pick-six. JuJu Smith-Schuster broke the Panthers’ will with a 75-yard touchdown. Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger had two more touchdowns than incomplete passes.
These are among the winners and losers from Pittsburgh’s blowout 52-21 win over Carolina on Thursday night.
Winner: Vince Williams shows out as playmaker for Pittsburgh
Pressure from T.J. Watt might have forced Cam Newton’s hand. But that doesn’t mean Williams didn’t come away with a game-altering play less than five minutes into the first quarter. With the game tied at seven, he picked off this Newton pass and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown. It was the Steelers’ second score in 13 seconds and set the stage for the remainder of the evening.
Not to be outdone by that one play, Williams also tallied four tackles, one quarterback hit and one sack in the 52-21 Steelers win. He simply played some tremendous football in front of the home crowd at Heinz Field Thursday evening.
Loser: Le’Veon Bell’s value continues to diminish
Pittsburgh’s offense is an absolute juggernaut. It proved this in more ways than one against a good Carolina Panthers defense Thursday night. When all was said and done inside Heinz Field, the Steelers dropped a cool 457 yards and 52 points in one of the biggest blowouts in prime time television that we’ve seen in some time.
Now that Bell’s holdout has continued through nine games, second-year back James Conner continues to show out. He put up 73 total yards on 14 touches, including a touchdown. This led to an official NFL Twitter account trolling Bell big time. The more Conner continues to dominate, the less valuable Bell becomes. Thursday’s blowout win over Carolina was the latest example of this.
Winner: Christian McCaffrey continues recent success
Coming off a brilliant 157-yard performance last week against the Buccaneers, this second-year back came into Thursday’s game on pace for nearly 1,800 total yards this season. Immediately out of the gate, McCaffrey showed why Carolina made him a top-10 pick in the first place. He tallied 60 total yards on six touches, including this 20-yard touchdown catch from Cam Newton, to open the scoring on Carolina’s first drive of the game.
McCaffrey then scored Carolina’s second touchdown in the first half, a 25-yard pass from Newton to pull the game within 24-14. Sure the Panthers’ defense did nothing to help them win this game. But a star is being born in Carolina right in front of our eyes. All said, McCaffrey gained 138 total yards on 19 touches with all three Panthers touchdowns in the game. That included five catches for 61 yards. He’s in domination mode right now.
Loser: Cam Newton comes up small
It’s true that this former NFL MVP didn’t get a lot of help from his defense or offensive line in this one. Even then, Newton was vastly outplayed by the home quarterback at nearly ever stop. Including a pick-six early in the game, Newton completed 23-of-29 passes for just 193 yards in the 31-point loss.
That’s not the type of performance Carolina expected after having headed into Thursday Night Football with a 6-2 mark and averaging nearly 33 points per game during its three-game winning streak.
Winner: Ben Roethlisberger dominates in front of home crowd
Big Ben entered Week 10 in the midst of a hot streak. During Pittsburgh’s four-game winning streak, the future Hall of Fame quarterback put up eight touchdowns compared to two interceptions en route to leading the Steelers to north of 31 points per outing. Unfortunately for the visiting Panthers, Roethlisberger took his game to an entirely new level.
Playing just over three quarter of action before riding the pine in what was ultimately a blowout, Big Ben finished the evening with a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He completed 22-of-25 passes for 328 yards with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. Yeah, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback had two more touchdowns than incomplete passes. That’s just hilarious.
Loser: Panthers cornerbacks looked confused
It’s rather clear that Carolina was relying on Bradberry to shut down JuJu Smith-Schuster opposite Antonio Brown. The idea for Ron Rivera’s squad was to double Brown while leaving Bradberry in single coverage against Smith-Schuster. Said idea burnt Carolina on the Steelers’ first offensive play of the game, as Smith-Schuster torched Bradberry on a 75-yard touchdown catch. The third-year corner bit on a double move and was absolute toast from there.
On the opposite side, rookie cornerback Donte Jackson couldn’t do anything to slow down Brown. The game’s most-electric receiver put up five catches for 99 yards in the first half alone, including this 53-yard touchdown. All said, Steelers receivers had 193 receiving yards before the third quarter even started. That was game, set, match.
Winner: Antonio Brown continues to do his thing
Brown didn’t need to do a whole lot with this game out of hand in the second half. But what the elite-level receiver did in the initial two quarters was awe-inspiring. Brown caught all six of the passes thrown in his direction for nearly 100 yards and a touchdown. He consistently beat rookie Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson, making this matchup look unfair in the process.
Having struggled to connect with Big Ben earlier in the season, Brown has picked up his performance a great deal recently. Including Thursday’s blowout win, he’s caught 28 passes for 418 yards and a whopping seven touchdowns during Pittsburgh’s five-game winning streak. Now, if he can just obey traffic laws, everything will be gravy.
Loser: Panthers offensive line fails to step up
Quarterback Cam Newton might have struggled throughout the game. That’s fine. But it’s not like he got a ton of help from Carolina’s offensive line. This unit had allowed only 12 sacks through the first eight games. Given the season-ending injury All-Pro right tackle Daryl Williams suffered weeks back, this is somewhat of a surprising stat.
In no way did the offensive line duplicate this success Thursday night in Pittsburgh, Newton found himself sacked five times and hit a total of seven times in the loss. That’s just not sustainable, especially given how Newton himself plays the game. Just ask Eric Reid.
Winner: JuJu Smith-Schuster is so darn good
No longer can we say Antonio Brown is overshadowing this second-year receiver in the Steel City. Smith-Schuster entered Thursday’s action having caught 111 passes for nearly 1,600 yards in his first 22 NFL games. He was on pace for 106 receptions and nearly 1,400 yards as a sophomore. That’s some historical early-career numbers from the USC product.
Almost immediately out of the gate against Carolina, JuJu showed us why he can be one of the most-dynamic players in the game. He took a short Ben Roethlisberger pass, turned it up field after a beautiful double move for a 75-yard touchdown. These game-changing plays have defined Pittsburgh’s recent success. And they make this offense one of the most feared in the league.
Loser: Devin Funchess went AWOL
As Carolina’s leading pass catcher from the wide receiver position heading into Week 10, Funchess was a no show. He caught a grand total of three passes for 32 yards on five targets. Two of those catches came with Carolina down 38 points late in the fourth quarter.
It didn’t help that Cam Newton was under duress throughout the game. It sure didn’t help that the Panthers were playing from behind. Even then, Newton’s No. 1 receiver failed to do anything of substance here.