NFL Nation: 2010 Panthers-Steelers wrap-ups

Wrap-up: Steelers 27, Panthers 3

December, 23, 2010
Thoughts from Carolina's 27-3 loss to the Steelers.

What it means: I don’t know. I mean, I really don’t know. I’m at a loss for words at this point and I am open to suggestions. So we’ll just play it totally straight. The Panthers, a bad team, went up to Pittsburgh and got thumped by a very good team. Did anyone really expect anything else? The Panthers had their one-game winning streak ended and fell to 2-13. On the bright side, they held onto their lead for the first overall pick in the 2011 draft.

What I liked: At some point in the second half, I went out and got my satellite radio. After watching and listening to the brutal first half on television, I needed to turn to someone familiar, someone who could really feel the pain of how bad this season has been for the Panthers. I got Carolina’s radio broadcast and listened the rest of the way to Mick Mixon, Eugene Robinson and Jim Szoke. They are three guys I’ve known for a very long time, three guys I genuinely like and three guys who are very good at their jobs. I wound up feeling really bad for them and felt better that I wasn’t the only one at an absolute loss for words. At various points in the second half, Mixon, Robinson and Szoke were reduced to talking about how the game was being played in Heinz Field and the importance of ketchup in Pittsburgh and the “bright spot’’ that was Captain Munnerlyn’s nice punt return.

What I found humorous and sad at the same time: On Sunday, I joked that general manager Marty Hurney might use the trip to make a side visit to try to talk University of Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri into entering the draft early. Amazingly, that sailed right over the head of one writer to my mailbag, who asked if I thought Sunseri might be willing to enter the draft early and if he could be anything more than a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Look, I’ve known Tino since the days when he was a ball boy at training camp and his father, Sal, was coaching Carolina’s defensive line. Tino is a great kid and I hope he has a nice finish to his career at Pittsburgh, but my reference was a total joke at the time. Tino’s got a bit of an arm, but I’m closer to the stereotypical size for an NFL quarterback than he is. I wrote that item thinking that even if Tino was thinking about coming out of college early, he had no chance as an NFL prospect. But after watching another episode of the Jimmy Clausen Show, I’m seriously thinking Hurney should explore every quarterback on the planet.

What’s next: Although the extra days off might seem like torture to the players, the bright spot is that John Fox’s final game as coach of the Panthers will come on the final day of the regular season at Atlanta. Even if the Falcons have clinched home-field advantage and decide to rest their starters, the Panthers have no chance. Once this mess of a season is over, the Panthers need to turn the page, forget about Fox and decide who will be the next coach.

Wrap-up: Steelers 27, Panthers 3

December, 23, 2010
Here are some thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-3 blowout victory over the Carolina Panthers:

What it means: Pittsburgh improves to 11-4 and gets one step closer to securing the AFC North division title and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Steelers will wait for the result of this weekend's game between the Baltimore Ravens (10-4) and Cleveland Browns (5-9). If Baltimore loses, Pittsburgh clinches the division and has the option of resting key players in its Week 17 game against the Browns. If the Ravens win, both Baltimore and Pittsburgh have to play out the final week.

What I liked: The Steelers responded well after a short week of preparation and suffering a tough loss this past Sunday to the New York Jets. Pittsburgh put away the lowly Panthers (2-13) early, taking a 20-0 halftime lead. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (320 yards, two total touchdowns) and receiver Mike Wallace (four catches, 104 yards, one touchdown) led the offense, and the defense allowed only three points, which is tied for the lowest total of the season. It was a complete, business-like performance for Pittsburgh against a really bad team. The Steelers also didn't suffer any major injuries.

What I didn't like: There were a couple of things to nitpick with the Steelers. The biggest is that Pittsburgh's struggles in the red zone continued. The Steelers were 2-of-6 in the red zone and need to do much better converting touchdowns against better competition. Also, Roethlisberger was involved in two fumbles. One was a fumbled exchange with rookie center Maurkice Pouncey that appeared to be the fault of the quarterback. The second was a handoff attempt to Isaac Redman in the second half.

Underrated contributor: Steelers rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders is coming on strong late in the season. Sanders has developed as a viable option in the slot and had four catches for 54 yards. Sanders is fearless and competitive, and it looks like Pittsburgh has another good find in the third round.

Miller returns: After missing the past two games with a concussion, Pittsburgh starting tight end Heath Miller returned and made an immediate contribution. The offense looked much better with Miller's receiving and solid run blocking. He recorded a team-high five receptions to go with his 73 yards.

Streak broken: Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham has done a good job of replacing longtime Pittsburgh kicker Jeff Reed. Suisham made two field goals in the first half but his streak of 12 straight makes ended when he missed a 41-yard attempt at the end of the first half.

What's next: The Steelers have a good opportunity to rest and get healthy with 10 days to prepare for their Jan. 2 rivalry game against the Browns. Last year the Browns split the season series with Pittsburgh, picking up a 13-6 win in Cleveland.