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Old 12-24-2010, 10:07 AM   #1
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Default Steelers move closer to bye with easy win over Panthers


Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Steelers move closer to bye with easy win over Panthers

By Scott Brown
Friday, December 24, 2010

The Steelers get to enjoy Christmas — and do some scoreboard watching this weekend.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 320 yards and a touchdown and the defense turned in a Scrooge-like effort Thursday night as the Steelers beat the Carolina Panthers, 27-3, in front an announced crowd of 61,748.

Roethlisberger spread the ball around in dissecting the Panthers’ secondary at Heinz Field. The Steelers’ defense, by contrast, made life miserable for Jimmy Clausen, Roethlisberger’s counterpart.

Carolina (2-13) never really threatened to spring a seismic upset on a bone-chilling night despite moving the ball with some success early in the game.

“We got necessary plays from all three phases,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “It’s great to be in the clubhouse with a necessary win.”

The Steelers (11-4) will win their third division title in four years under Tomlin and clinch the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs if the Browns beat the Ravens Sunday in Cleveland.

If the Ravens beat the Browns, the Steelers would likely have to win their Jan. 2 regular-season finale in Cleveland to claim the division title and first-round bye for the playoffs.

“I’m a Cleveland fan this weekend,” Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior said. “Just for this weekend.”

The players are off today and the Steelers don’t return to work until Monday.

“Merry, merry Christmas, Steelers Nation,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “It’s a great weekend for us.”

Yesterday marked the 38th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, the iconic play that served as a turning point for the Steelers’ franchise.

The Steelers did not need any last-second heroics to beat the overmatched Panthers.

The defense largely redeemed itself four days after free safety Ryan Clark said it had “stunk” in a 22-17 loss to the New York Jets.

The Steelers sacked Clausen four times, intercepted the rookie quarterback once and allowed just 72 passing yards.

One of those sacks came at the beginning of the second quarter after the Panthers had driven to the Steelers’ 32-yard line.

With the Steelers leading 3-0, lame duck Panthers coach John Fox opted to go for it on fourth and five. Clausen never had a chance on the play as Farrior dropped him for a 4-yard loss.

That set the tone for a quarter in which the Steelers dominated the Panthers.

Bryant McFadden intercepted Clausen later in the quarter and that led to the first touchdown of the game.

Roethlisberger, anticipating a blitz, hit wide receiver Mike Wallace with a pass just off the line of scrimmage.

Wallace split a pair of Carolina defensive players with his breathtaking speed, and his 43-yard touchdown catch gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead.

“It was a linebacker blitz and something we worked on in practice,” Wallace said. “(Roethlisberger) saw it and I saw it and he threw the ball and I just ran with it. We got the exact look we worked on in practice and it worked to perfection”

The Steelers built their lead to 20-0 by halftime, but they only came away with 10 points from the three drives that probed inside the Panthers’ 20-yard line.

They got stopped on fourth-and-1 from the Panthers’ 5-yard line early in the third quarter but the defense forced a three-and-out.

Roethlisberger directed a seven-play, 35-yard drive, and he capped it with a one-yard touchdown run on third down. A 22-yard pass interference call on Carolina had given the Steelers the ball at the 1-yard line.

Roethlisberger completed passes to eight different receivers with Wallace racking up 104 receiving yards on four catches and tight end Heath Miller hauling in five passes for 73 yards.

“I had an OK game but I feel like I could have done some things better,” Wallace said after his sixth 100-yard receiving game of the season. “I feel like I should have had 200 yards. I missed a pass out there.”

Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.
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