Panther Tracks

Steel City Nightmare: Carolina falls apart Thursday in Pittsburgh.

Well, the Carolina Panthers’ big Thursday night game at Pittsburgh started out well enough.

Carolina drove down the field in a rush (see more below), scored a touchdown and appeared ready to show a national television audience that it was a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

But after that 7-0 Panthers lead, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense shredded a proud Carolina defense like Panthers fans have rarely seen it done.

Pittsburgh scored 31 first half points, and ultimately gave the Panthers a 52-21 whipping in front Fox Sports’ Troy Aikman, Joe Buck and the whole world.

The Steelers scored the most points ever at Heinz Field and tied the most points ever allowed by the Panthers. Roethlisberger completed 22-of-25 passes for 328 yards and five touchdowns.

“We thought this would be a heckuva matchup and come down to the wire,” Aikman said in the second half. “But the Pittsburgh Steelers, they have just dominated at every level.”

Aikman was quite right.

And all of a sudden Carolina (6-3) is really looking up at New Orleans (7-1) in the NFC South division race and has a little over a week to figure out what went wrong.

And this is how bad it was. By the end of the third quarter, Pittsburgh led 45-14, had the ball in the red zone and the Steelers had more than 400 total yards of offense. They finished with 457.

Worse, the Panthers’ pass protection broke down, reminding of Denver’s rush in the Super Bowl a few years back. Sacked 12 times all season, Newton was sacked five times Friday and was under constant, heavy pressure.

Newton was 23-of-29 for 193 yards and two touchdowns. McCaffrey ran 14 times for 77 yards and caught five passes for 61 yards.

But other than a couple moments, the Carolina offense -- which did get three scores from McCaffrey -- didn’t do much.

Here’s some social media response.

Panthers take and Panthers give away

Panthers Steelers Football (2)
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) collects himself after fumbling the ball after being hit by Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey recovered the ball. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic Keith Srakocic AP

After a really nice opening drive to start the game, Carolina took a 7-0 lead. Newton found McCaffrey on a swing pass for a pretty easy score.

But before the Panthers offense could sit back and enjoy their 75-yard drive, Pittsburgh got a one-play answer.

Roethlisberger hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 75-yard score to tie the game.

Worse for Carolina, on the Panthers next play, Newton threw a ball towards tight end Greg Olsen as Newton was being pressured by TJ Watt. Newton was about to be tackled in end zone and was trying to avoid a safety.

His pass, thrown as he was being pulled down, went high and was intercepted by PIttsburgh’s Vince Williams, who ran in basically untouched.

So in 13 seconds, Carolina went from up 7-0 to down 14-7 and Heinz Field was suddenly electric.

It stayed that way.

Panthers Steelers Football
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree (48) and inside linebacker Jon Bostic (51) during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Wright) Don Wright AP