Big Ben, Steelers relentless in Panthers steamrolling

Who needs Le’Veon Bell? The Pittsburgh Steelers’ scorching offense put on a steamy performance that left the Carolina Panthers a wrinkled, disheveled mess on Thursday Night Football. Here’s what we learned from the Steelers’ 52-21 victory to kick off Week 10:

1. The Steelers went from zero to thermonuclear on the first snap. Ben Roethlisberger’s 75-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster on Pittsburgh first play from scrimmage set the blistering tone. An interception by Vince Williams that was returned 17 yards for a touchdown on the ensuing Panthers possession stoked the flames that prove too much for the Panthers (6-3) to extinguish. Pittsburgh scored on all but one of their first-half possessions en route to scoring 31 points (and they were driving when time expired in the second quarter). Big Ben recorded the highest completion percentage (92.3) in the first half of his 15-year career en route to recording a franchise record 88 percent completion percentage for the game. The Steelers (6-2-1) kept him on the sideline for most of the fourth quarter after he completed 22 of 25 passes for 328 yards and five touchdowns. It was a truly dominant performance for Roethlisberger, who continues to showcase the skills that have made him one of the best signal-callers of his generation. It’s amazing he was considering retirement two years ago after watching this game in conjunction with the rest of his performances over the Steelers’ five-game winning streak. "We just found ways to capitalize in ways we needed to in order to get a win," Roethlisberger told Fox Sports’ Kristina Pink after the game.

2. So much for the Panthers’ defense. Big Ben, Antonio Brown and Smith-Schuster exposed the deficiencies of Carolina’s turbid secondary that got little help from its front seven. Pittsburgh’s offensive line kept their quarterback TD-tossing fresh by ziplocking him away behind a protective barrier that allowed Big Ben to pick apart the Panthers from his favored statuesque pocket pose. With the Steelers’ O-line imposing its physical will on the Panthers up front, Pittsburgh’s wide receivers ran circles around Carolina’s secondary, schooling James Bradberry, Deonte Thompson and Eric Reid with harsh regularity. Antonio Brown tallied six catches for 96 yards, Smith-Schuster netted three passes for 90 yards and tight end Vance McDonald had four catches for 44 yards. Each had a TD catch during a game featuring the most points ever scored by the Steelers at Heinz Field. "We gave up plays over the top, which hasn’t happened [before]," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.

3. Christian McCaffrey was the lone bright spot for the Panthers. The second-year running back put in an amazing individual performance even if it was quickly overshadowed by the team’s inability to keep up with the Steelers’ torid scoring pace. McCaffrey finished with 138 yards from scrimmage, tallying 77 yards on 14 carries and a TD in conjunction with 61 yards and two TDs on five catches. McCaffrey’s ability to add a dynamic playmaker to the Panthers offense played a big part in fueling the team’s four-game winning streak prior to the Panthers falling head first into an abyss after tying the franchise record for most points allowed in a game.

4. Does James Conner’s concussion spur urgency for a Le’Veon Bell comeback? Conner left the game in the fourth quarter after suffering a concussion and it remains to be seen if the second-year running back is in danger of missing next week’s matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Prior to the injury, Conner looked like his normal self, although coach Mike Tomlin was limiting his playing time as early as the second quarter in effort to keep him fresh following just four days of rest. Unfortunately, Conner suffered the concussion after rushing for 65 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. With Conner’s status up in the air, there’s an element of Steelerdom that likely will be eager to see Bell return as soon as possible.

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