Steelers Tame Panthers Easily, Now Just One Win Away From AFC North Title and No. 2 Seed

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 23: Mike Wallace #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers during the game on December 23 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

When Mike Tomlin and the lot of Pittsburgh Steelers players and coaches convened last spring and summer to prepare for the 2010 NFL season, I imagine they did a bit of goal setting. The ultimate goal of course would be to win the team's seventh Super Bowl. But I imagine Tomlin talked about winning the AFC North as an important goal to accomplish on the way to achieving SB glory. In fact, I know he did based on this post-game quote following the Steelers' 27-3 win over the Carolina Panthers last Thursday night:

"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.

I thought the Steelers would run the ball early and often against the hapless Panthers, but Bruce Arians had other plans. The Steelers came out attacking with the passing game. By halftime, the Steelers had built a 20-0 lead thanks mostly to Ben Roethlisberger's roughly 250 first half passing yards. A few quick notes on the game, which, to me at least, feels like it was played weeks ago.

* Ben Roethlisberger was tremendous on Thursday night. He finished 22-of-32 for 320 yards and 1 TD. He distributed the ball nicely - eight different Steelers caught a pass. Outside of his lost fumble, Big Ben just played a really efficient game taking advantage of the correct matchups at the right times against an overmatched secondary. In my estimation, we're starting to see the dividends of him 'enjoying the monotony of the job', as Tomlin put it earlier this season.

* Mike Wallace has to be going to the Pro Bowl, right? The second-year wide receiver is leading the NFL in yards pre reception again in '10. That's right, again. Research time: can anyone find out when the last time a wide receiver led the league in YPC for consecutive years? And has anyone ever began their career like that? Wallace's latest addition to his personal highlight reel was his 43-yard touchdown reception on a quick-hitting slant that he took to the house in yet another impressive display of his world class speed. Credit Arians for finding new and creative ways to get Wallace the ball in open space.

* Speaking of wide receivers, who else is extremely pleased and perhaps even a touch surprised by Emmanuel Sanders' rapid development over the course of his rookie season? Sanders hauled in four receptions for 58 yards against the Panthers, including a gorgeous 33-yarder on a post route that he nearly scored on. Sanders now has 11 receptions for 132 yards over his past two games, and 27 catches for 360 yards and 2 TDs on the year. Without Roethlisberger's continued maturation as a quarterback, there's no way Sanders sees as many opportunities to contribute as he has. Great work by the two of them getting comfortable and confident with each other.

* I'll be updating my defensive comparison charts later, so I'll limit my commentary on the play of the defense. There's not much to say really, anyway. The Panthers opened the game by advancing the ball into Steelers territory on their first two possessions. Of their 119 total yards, 63 came in those first two series, neither of which resulted in points. Outstanding job taking care of business by Dick LeBeau's unit. More on them later.

* Sean Suisham with his first miss as a Steeler. His perfect streak was going to end at some point, but I'm still curious to see how he'll respond to a miss when the game is still close. Suisham's first miss came at the end of the first half with the Steelers up 20, not exactly a pressure-packed moment. He didn't have any second half field goal attempts.

* More from me real soon. Go Steelers!

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