Panthers can't recover from early deficit in blowout loss
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Carolina Panthers fell behind early and never recovered.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense used an early surge and a first-quarter defensive touchdown to jump out to a big lead as the Steelers pounded the Panthers 52-21 on Thursday night for their fifth straight victory.
"I tell you what, it sure enough was a humbling piece of pie," Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. "It was a learning experience for a lot of guys. If we are as good as we expect us to be, we have to find a way to win games in a hostile environment."
The Panthers (6-3) saw their three-game winning streak come to an abrupt halt in a city where they've never won. Carolina fell to 0-4 all-time in Pittsburgh and was never really in it after the Steelers scored 21 points in the game's first 11 minutes.
"We had a lot of our noses bleeding early on and we just have to stop it," Newton said. "We need to find ways to keep things going in our favor. We just got outplayed today."
Newton's showdown with Roethlisberger also never materialized.
Roethlisberger finished 22 of 25 passes for 328 yards with five touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. The Steelers, who punted for the first time with 9:34 to play, were 8 of 9 on third down with Roethlisberger in the game.
Newton completed 23 of 29 passes for 193 yards and a pair of flips to Christian McCaffrey that the second-year running back turned into scores.
The Steelers sacked Newton five times and rarely let him get comfortable as the Panthers' offensive line struggled against the pass rush. Entering Thursday's game, Carolina allowed just 12 sacks, second-fewest through eight games in franchise history.
The biggest rush came on the 11th snap of the game when Newton threw off his back foot out of the Carolina end zone while trying to avoid getting sacked. Pittsburgh linebacker Vince Williams raced under the floater and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 14-7 lead they never came close to relinquishing.
"I was just trying to throw the ball away," Newton said. "When you're getting slung around, you can't really control the accuracy. I hit the ground, I looked up and it was an interception."
The Panthers scored 99 points in their last nine quarters entering Thursday's game. That included a franchise-record 35 first-half point outburst during a 14-point win against Tampa Bay last week.
MCaffrey finished with 138 yards of total offense and accounted for all three Carolina scores, but it wasn't nearly enough.
"This league is hard, this league will humble you real fast," Carolina TE Greg Olsen said. "Hopefully, that's the lesson we get out of tonight. We've got a lot of work to do. We found out tonight that we have some work to do to be in that upper echelon right now."
The Steelers' 52 points are tied for the most ever allowed by the Panthers in franchise history. The last time it happened came during a 52-9 loss, Dec. 24, 2000, against Oakland.
The Steelers, who scored on seven of their first eight drives, held a 17-point halftime lead and increased the advantage to 38-14 on the opening series of the second half.
Roethlisberger's fourth touchdown pass came two plays after Carolina safety Eric Reid was ejected for an unnecessary hit to the head while Roethlisberger slid for a first down.
"It was a bang-bang play," Reid said. "He was scrambling and I'm trying to do my job and tackle the person carrying the ball. I understand the NFL is trying to protect quarterbacks, but when they're running the ball they're running backs."
The hit sparked a brief fracas with members of the Steelers' offensive line, but ended with Roethlisberger and Reid sharing a fist bump and a tap on the helmet after the play.
"I told him that I didn't intend to hurt him by any means," Reid said. "I was just trying to do my job, and he said "no hard feelings."
The Panthers plan to take the extended weekend to regroup for a road game at Detroit on Nov. 18. Carolina is 6-2 all-time against Detroit.
"When you get put behind the eight ball that kind of deters you from the given game plan," Newton said. "The guys in the locker room seem to have a grasp on what's at stake. We know we're capable of being a deep contender playoff team."
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