Scott Fowler

Panthers suffer humiliating loss to Steelers as road woes continue

Carolina Panthers owner takes questions on practice facility, Cam’s hat and the Tepper Quad

Panthers owner David Tepper hinted on Thursday night at the timeline for a new indoor practice facility.
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Panthers owner David Tepper hinted on Thursday night at the timeline for a new indoor practice facility.

The Carolina Panthers showed their worst selves in a horrid game Thursday night and deservedly took one of the most humiliating losses in team history.

Carolina’s 52-21 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in prime time Thursday night had innumerable problems: the Panthers’ offensive line, their entire defense and Cam Newton’s one early terrible decision, for starters. It was embarrassing.

When you added it all up, Pittsburgh already had a 31-14 lead at halftime. Then the Steelers scored touchdowns on their first three drives of the second half, too, and had tied the most points the Panthers had ever given up (52) only five seconds into the fourth quarter. It stayed at 52 after that, but only because the Steelers had some mercy and started playing their reserves.

It was the fourth time in four road games this season that the Panthers had fallen behind by at least 14 points. They have gotten overwhelmed on the road all year – falling behind by 14 to Atlanta, by 17 to Washington and Philadelphia and eventually by an astounding 38 points to the Steelers, who looked like Super Bowl champions on this night.

In Philadelphia, Carolina staged a miracle fourth-quarter comeback and won. But you don’t want to count on something like that, and the Panthers (6-3 overall, 1-3 on the road) are in danger of letting a talented team go to waste if they can’t figure out how to win on the road more often.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) collects himself after fumbling the ball after being hit by Pittsburgh outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) Thursday night. The Panthers suffered a lopsided defeat, allowing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to finish with more TD passes (five) than incompletions (three). Keith Srakocic AP

I thought Eric Reid deserved to get kicked out of the game in the third quarter when Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down on a slide and Reid came in hard and low, leading with his shoulder and head. It was the correct call for the officials to eject him just as it was in Week 2, when an Atlanta defender was ejected for a similar play against Cam Newton.

Newton, incidentally, threw the ball fine when he had time to throw it Thursday, which wasn’t very often. And I disagreed with him still being in the game, down 52-14, in the fourth quarter. I’m sure he wanted to keep playing. But he had gotten blasted all night, and this game was lost. I would have pulled him one series earlier (he was taken out for Carolina’s final series).

Pittsburgh’s first four offensive possessions went like this: TD-TD-FG-TD. Then, after the clock ran out to end the first half, the Steelers’ first three second-half possessions went TD-TD-TD.

To be honest, I thought the Panthers’ offensive line problems would show up a lot earlier than in this game. But wow, did they ever show up. Newton was hit so often in the pocket that it was almost a surprise when he wasn’t (his pick-six interception was the result of pressure). And Carolina occasionally forgot to block linebacker T.J. Watt, whose effective rush against Newton in the first quarter ended up causing a pick-six interception.

Christian McCaffrey scored twice on pass plays and again on a late 1-yard run. It’s probably the most disappointing three-TD game he’s ever had, however, given the final score. And his pass protection left a whole lot to be desired. But the Panthers didn’t put him in great positions, either. What was McCaffrey doing having to block defensive linemen 60 pounds heavier than he is sometimes?

The Panthers actually start seven players on defense who at one point have made the Pro Bowl. And all seven of them got their butts kicked Thursday night, just like everyone else on that defense.

It’s not hard to see how Roethlisberger has a couple of Super Bowl rings. He eviscerated Carolina’s defense, dropping in deep balls with authority and stepping out of Carolina’s subdued pass rush whenever he needed to. Roethlisberger controlled the Panthers’ defense like he was a puppeteer and they were all on strings. Roethlisberger actually threw more touchdown passes (five) than he did incompletions (three). He ended his night 22-for-25 for 328 yards, five touchdowns and a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3.

Luke Kuechly was on the field Thursday night, but for one of the few games in his career he was practically invisible.

Yes, Pittsburgh’s fifth touchdown of the night – a Roethlisberger pass to tight end Vance McDonald – should have been incomplete. But it wouldn’t have mattered at that point.

Easiest job of the night: Pittsburgh’s punter. Yes, Jordan Berry holds for kicks, too, so he had to do a lot of that. But he didn’t have to punt until the fourth quarter, and by that point it was 52-14.

Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140, @scott_fowler