The Week 15 matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers pitted two 5-8 teams head-to-head, but these two teams couldn’t be in more different situations heading into the game Sunday. The Panthers were still alive in the atrocious NFC South, while the Steelers division hopes were gone, and their playoff hopes were dangling by a very thin thread.
Nonetheless, these two teams squared off in Charlotte, NC with a Sam Darnold vs. Mitch Trubisky matchup. The Steelers were without Kenny Pickett, who failed to clear concussion protocol after leaving in the first quarter of the Week 14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Trubisky and the Steelers offense would have to wait to get their first possession, with the Steelers winning the toss and deferring their possession to the second half.
Carolina’s first drive lasted just three plays before punting the ball to Pittsburgh. Starting at their own 34-yard line, the Steelers put together an impressive opening drive. Highlighted by several big Najee Harris runs, and timely third down conversions, the drive was capped off by another Harris touchdown run of the season.
Chris Boswell’s extra point was good, making the score 7-0 with 5:48 left in the opening quarter.
The Panthers were putting together their best drive of the day, thus far, and did so with the arm of Darnold. Darnold converted three 3rd and 10+ on the drive, and were in a first and goal situation to end the first quarter. On 3rd down, Darnold scrambled to his right and hit D.J. Moore for the touchdown pass. The extra point was good, tying the game 7-7 with 14:12 left in the first half.
Needing an answer to the Moore touchdown, the Steelers put together another impressive drive. The biggest play of the drive was a deep shot down the sideline from Trubisky to George Pickens which gave the Steelers a critical 3rd down conversion.
On 2nd and goal, rookie Jaylen Warren completed the drive with his first touchdown run of the season, and his professional career.
Chris Boswell’s extra point was good, making the score 14-7 with 8:20 left in the first half.
The Panthers’ next drive was able to gain just one first down before giving the ball right back to the red-hot Steelers offense. The Steelers’ offense cooled quickly, and their first three-and-out resulted in the first Pressley Harvin punt of the game. However, the Carolina offense continued to stall, and on 3rd and 10 Darnold was sacked for the first time in the game, by T.J. Watt, which ended the drive after just three plays and with 3:26 left in the half.
After both teams had three-and-outs on their next possessions, the Steelers chose to run out the clock and head into halftime with a 14-7 lead.
Pittsburgh got the football to start the second half, and Mitch Trubisky orchestrated another balanced drive, but this drive was the time-consuming variety. Taking 11:43 off the clock, the Steelers used 21 plays and mixed the run and pass as they moved the ball into the red-zone. Facing a 1st and goal situation from the one-yard line, the Steelers went with the quarterback sneak twice in a row, the second having Trubisky plunge into the end zone.
Chris Boswell was good, giving the Steelers a 21-7 lead with 3:17 left in the third quarter.
It looked as if the Panthers were going to answer the Steelers’ score after Chubba Hubbard caught a Darnold pass and scampered won the field for 40 yards. However, back-to-back sacks by Alex Highsmith and Cam Heyward pushed the Panthers out of field goal range at the end of the third quarter.
When it looked like the Steelers were getting the ball back, a dead ball unsportsmanlike penalty on Marcus Allen gave the Panthers a new set of downs and new life. The bone-headed penalty equated in a Carolina field goal, making the score 21-10 with 11:52 left in regulation.
After a Steelers three-and-out, the Carolina Panthers moved the ball down the field. Ater a defensive pass interference call on Cam Sutton set up the Panthers in a 1st-and-goal situation, the Steelers’ defense stiffened and kept the Panthers out of the end-zone. A dynamic run stop on 2nd down by Alex Highsmith set up a 3rd and goal where Darnold was sacked by a trio of defenders. Carolina kicked a field goal, making the score 21-13 with 6:16 left in the fourth quarter.
With an opportunity to not give the ball back to the Panthers, the Steelers leaned on their veterans to convert on big third down situations. On more than one occasion it was Trubisky finding Diontae Johnson for the conversion. Pittsburgh continued to milk the clock, forcing the Panthers to use all their timeouts. The drive ended in a 50-yard Chris Boswell field goal to make the score 24-13 with 1:04 left in regulation.
The Panthers moved the ball into field goal range, and hit a 52-yard kick with 19 seconds left to make the score 24-16 and go for an onside kick. The Steelers recovered the ball, and the 24-16 score held as the final.
The win moves the Steelers’ record to 6-8 on the season, and keeps their playoff hopes alive for at least another week. The team now turns their attention to the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Eve in Week 16. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the 2022 regular season.