PITTSBURGH - So close to securing a division title, the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't need any tension, drama or surprises after a short week of preparation. The Carolina Panthers certainly couldn't provide any.
Ben Roethlisberger showed off Pittsburgh’s deep passing game and the Steelers inched closer to a division title and a first-round playoff bye, beating the Panthers, 27-3, on Thursday night.
Pittsburgh (11-4), bouncing back from Sunday’s 22-17 loss to the Jets, will wrap up the AFC North and the bye if it beats Cleveland on Jan. 2. The Browns (5-9) could end the division race even earlier than that if they upset the Ravens (10-4) at home Sunday.
“There’s some hardware out there for us, the AFC North title, and that more than anything is what we’re focused on,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
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Roethlisberger found Mike Wallace on a 43-yard scoring play and Emmanuel Sanders on a 35-yard completion to set up Rashard Mendenhall’s 1-yard touchdown run as the Steelers opened a 20-0 halftime lead. Roethlisberger ended 22 of 32 for 320 yards and no interceptions.
It didn’t seem that close and it wasn’t, not with Pittsburgh outgaining the Panthers (2-13) by a 3.4-to-1 margin while controlling the line of scrimmage, the clock and a Jimmy Clausen-led Carolina offense.
The Panthers couldn’t throw and, for a change, couldn’t run while being outgained 408-119.
“It’s good to be in the clubhouse before everyone else this weekend with a necessary win,” Tomlin said.
Not much of a season for the Panthers, who have lost eight of nine, and not much of a game. Jonathan Stewart, who averaged 115 yards in his previous four games, was held to 71 yards by a defense that has allowed one 100-yard rusher in 49 games.
Carolina took the opening kickoff, drove to the Steelers’ 32 and chose to punt on fourth-and-6, as a disappointed Clausen (10 of 23, 72 yards) threw his hands up in disgust. That was about it for the Panthers, who had zero net yards and no first downs from the end of the first quarter until the final 90 seconds in the third quarter.