Steelers Redeem Themselves in 24-16 Defeat of Panthers

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By Ray Porter Jr.

CHARLOTTE, NC– With their playoff hopes all but extinct, the Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping to finish the season strong for one reason: Pride. They will never be a team that will lose on purpose just to get a higher draft pick. No, this team works hard to get to respectability, especially after a 2-6 start. Game 1 of their redemption tour began with a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina to face the Panthers, and they were able to leave Bank of America Stadium with a 24-16 win.

“Hard fought game. I thought we played an attrition game today,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin commented. “We wanted to win the line of scrimmage on both sides. I thought we were effective in doing so. I thought we ran it on offense and played behind our running game.”

The Steelers’ running game was truly a benefit as they rushed for 156 yards as a team and scored 3 TDs. RB Najee Harris led with 86 yards and his TD gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter. Rookie RB Jaylen Warren’s (11 carries, 37 yards) 2-yard TD extended their lead to 14-7 in the 2nd quarter, and late in the 3rd quarter, QB Mitch Tribusky’s 1-yard TD sneak extended their lead to 21-7.

“He’s been a significant contributor all year and he was slowed there a couple weeks back with an injury and missed a game but he’s a component of what we do,” Tomlin said of Warren, who scored his first NFL TD.  “We have a great deal of confidence in him in all circumstances and that confidence is born out of the consistency in which he performs.”

The Steelers were also very successful on 3rd downs going 12/16. “We were in manageable third downs. So many of them were short yardage and globally those are higher percentage plays. I mean, how many sneaks did we have?” Tomlin asked. “Oftentimes, third down success is not about how you’re operating. It’s about the distance and we were in third and short and those are consistently more makeable than the longer ones. I will add that we had some significant longer ones that we needed including that one in the latter part of the game when we hit Diontae (Johnson) was a big one.”

Tribusky (17/22, 179 yards) had an improved game as he was mistake-free and managed the game effectively. “I just thought he managed it well. I thought he kept the ball off the ground and played clean with a high completion percentage,” said Tomlin. “It’s easier to do those things when you’re playing behind an effective run game. I can’t say enough about our big dudes up front and how they controlled it.”

After giving up 215 yards on the ground to Baltimore a week ago, the Steelers showed remarkable improvement in their run defense by allowing the Panthers to rush for only 21 total yards. “I thought we did a good job of minimizing their run on defense and obviously, it’s big because we’ve been leaking here the last six quarters or so defensively in that area. I’m appreciative of the efforts,” said Tomlin. “We threw a little schematics at it and some personnel groups. Like we talked about at the beginning of the week, they put unique big people packages on the field, and you have to match that. I thought we did with DeMarvin Leal. I thought he did a good job. More than anything, I just think there’s nothing mystical about dealing with the run. Usually, it’s about guys coming off of blocks and making tackles.”

The Steelers’ pass rush also woke up in this game, as they sacked Panthers QB Sam Darnold (14/23, 225, TD) 4 times, including 1.5 sacks from 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year TJ Watt.

The Steelers will now return home to face the 6-8 Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Eve as they also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception. “Obviously, we could have played smarter in some instances. Penalties are not how we choose to live, particularly some of the 15-yard variety, so hopefully, there are opportunities to learn from that. It’s good to learn with a W,” responded Tomlin.

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Image: Vince Butts/Urban Media Today