Steelers upend Panthers, 27-3

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The Steelers did their part and now it's down to one game, in Cleveland either this Sunday or next.

After they put the Carolina Panthers in a 27-3 box at Heinz Field and returned them to Charlotte for Christmas, the Steelers turn toward Cleveland to determine if they get a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Should the Browns upset Baltimore in Cleveland on Sunday, the Steelers will clinch the AFC North Division and the No. 2 playoff seed in the conference. If Baltimore beats the Browns, the Steelers can obtain the same results by winning in Cleveland Jan. 2.

The Steelers raised their record to 11-4. The Panthers are 2-13.

The Steelers ran out to a 20-0 halftime lead against Carolina and toyed with the Panthers in the second half.

Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for a career-high 259 yards in the first half, opened the scoring in the second half with a one-yard sneak.

Mike Wallace caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall ran 1 yard for another touchdown and Shaun Suisham kicked field goals of 26 and 29 yards, all in the first half.

Roethlisberger completed 22 of 32 passes for 320 yards. Wallace caught four passes for 104 yards. Mendenhall rushed for 68 yards.

After Carolina's promising opening drive fizzled and the Panthers punted with the ball just 32 yards from the end zone, the Steelers scored on their first drive.

The longest play was the first, a 35-yard run off the left side by Rashard Mendenhall to the Carolina 45. Roethlisberger also completed a 20-yard pass to Heath Miller to the 11. On third down from the eight, Roethlisberger threw what was called a touchdown pass to rookie Emmanuel Sanders. However, referee Bill Leavy overturned it via replay when it was obvious Sanders had dropped the ball as he fell to the ground.

Shaun Suisham then came on and kicked a 26-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

Carolina reached the Steelers 32 again on their second series and this time went for it. James Farrior sacked Jimmy Clausen on fourth down.

Bryant McFadden intercepted Clausen's deep pass at the Steelers 43 and three plays later, Wallace took a short slant pass from Roethlisberger, split two Panthers and no one could catch him on way to a 43-yard touchdown, the ninth for Wallace this season.

The Steelers looked to be on their way to another score when, on first down at Carolina's 38, Roethlisberger fumbled the snap and Carolina recovered.

They got their score on their next series, Mendenhall's 1-yard run. Sanders' 35-yard reception over the middle and Miller's 19-yard catch to the 10 highlighted that 8-play scoring drive.

The Steelers scored again with 39 seconds left in the half. Suisham kicked a 29-yard field goal to end a 43-yard drive that got started when Wallace caught a 40-yard pass from Roethliberger to the 15.

When Mike Goodson then fumbled the kickoff, Will Allen recovered at the 28 and the Steelers had another shot to score from the 28. They reached the 15, but Roethlisberger was sacked and then Suisham missed a 41-yard field goal wide to the right, his first miss with the Steelers after hitting his first 13 with them.

The one problem the Steelers had Thursday night is one that has dogged them all season -- scoring touchdowns inside the opponent 20. They were just 1-for-5 against Carolina and on two of those occasions did not score at all -- Suisham missed a field goal and they failed when they went for it on fourth-and-one at the five.

The Steelers reached the five in the third quarter but did not get in on that fourth-down play, a pass to Mendenhall that did not get to the sticks. They nearly did not score the second time they got inside the five in the third quarter.

A pass interference penalty gave them a first down at the one and Mendenhall could not score on two runs up the middle. On third down, Roethlisberger sneaked between center and left guard for the touchdown and a 27-0 lead.

The Steelers were sloppy in the second half. A sack of Roethlisberger lost seven yards back to the two, forcing a punt from their end zone. Carolina converted a short series into a 27-yard field goal by John Kasay to avoid the shutout.



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