The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the second half with a convincing 31-14 lead and get the ball to start the third quarter. Ben Roethlisberger completed long touchdown passes of 75 and 53 yards to JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown, respectively, while James Conner added a third offensive touchdown. Vince Williams recorded an interception for a touchdown, and Chris Boswell added a 50-yard field goal, as Jordan Berry didn’t have to punt in the first half.
After getting extended rest at the end of the first half, Conner got the first touch of the first half, a short rushing gain. A short reception by Smith-Schuster quickly made it third and five. On the pay, Roethlisberger connected with Ryan Switzer for another third-down conversion.
At the 43, Conner got another carry, spinning his way for 14 across midfield, following a Ramon Foster pull and putting him over 50 on the ground. Off play action, Roethlisberger floated a pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey for his first catch of the year, a nine-yard gain. On second and one, Conner converted with a four-yard gain.
He was frustrated after tripping through the hole for just a one-yard gain, hitting a lineman’s foot. From the Panthers’ 29, out of a five-wide set, Vance McDonald got his first catch out of a screen, physicaling his way for a six-yard gain. On third and three, Roethlisberger got the ball to Smith-Schuster inside the 15 on a shovel pass.
From the 13, Conner was again stuffed after a gain of about two yards. Smith-Schuster couldn’t get away from Captain Munnerlyn on a shot to the goal line. Now third and eight, Roethlisberger hit McDonald for the touchdown, an impressive snag for his second touchdown of the year and Roethlisberger’s third touchdown of the game.
Bud Dupree got to Newton for a sack on second down, making it third and 17, and then Morgan Burnett made a good open-field tackle to make it fourth and 12.
Taking over from the 35, there wasn’t much room for Conner to run, just one yard. The same story on second down, checking out for third and eight. Roethlisberger converted to McDonald, who had room to run and made a defender miss for a big gain across midfield.
From the Panthers’ 44, Stevan Ridley now in picked up four yards. Roethlisberger misfired to him on a play-action pass on second down. Now third and six, he found McDonald, and given the first down right at the sticks. Another third-down conversion, seven of eight.
Ridley stayed in to pick up a short gain off the right side. He was hit hard at the line of scrimmage a play later. The broadcast showed Conner entering the medical tent for unknown reasons. On third and eight, Roethlisberger pump faked and scrambled for the first down and then some, a flag being thrown on Eric Reid for hitting the quarterback late as he slid. David DeCastro and the rest of the linemen went after him. Reid clearly hit Roethlisberger in the head with his helmet. Roethlisberger and Reid made up after, however. Reid was thrown out of the game. That decision comes from New York. Replay showed Roethlisberger’s head whiplash pretty hard.
The penalty gave the Steelers first and goal, and Roethlisberger connected with Jesse James for the touchdown on second down, putting the Steelers up 45-14.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Panthers fumbled the ball on the return, Anthony Chickillo making the recovery as the special teams unit added to the team’s success. Of course it was Roosevelt Nix on the hit that jarred the ball loose, not a first for him.
Now first and goal again from the nine-yard line, Conner was given the carry, picking up three yards on first down. B.J. Finney replaced Maurkice Pouncey at center. Jaylen Samuels scored on an inside screen from six yards out for Roethlisberger’s fifth touchdown of the night. He dove from about the five-yard line. The Steelers put up over 50 points now.
Conner was taken into the locker room to undergo the concussion protocol.
The Panthers picked their first first down of the half two minutes into the fourth quarter. On second down, Newton was brought down for the fifth time tonight, the second by Cameron Heyward. McCaffrey was bulldozed by him. On third and 17, Mike Hilton made the tackle on a screen for a loss of yardage, forcing a punt.
Joshua Dobbs took over for Roethlisberger after that for the final 10-plus minutes of the game. Brown caught a screen pass that lost a couple of yards, Samuels making it third and eight a play later. Dobbs under pressure couldn’t get the ball to Samuels, resulting in Jordan Berry coming on the field for the first time for a punt. It wasn’t a very good one, but at this point, that’s probably okay.
The Panthers drove down the field, Artie Burns coming in before recording a pass interference in the end zone. It was the team’s first penalty of the game. The defense made the stop on first down, but McCaffrey rushed in on second down, his third total touchdown of the night, to make it 52-21 with 5:35 remaining in the game. As many starters as possible were taken out of the game at this point.
Ridley picked up one first down, but the drive stalled thereafter, Samuels tackled for a loss on a draw on third and six. Berry punted for the second time, only getting onto the field after Roethlisberger left the game. His second punt was a great one, rolling inside the 15.