Steelers inch closer to AFC North division title

The Steelers inched closer to the AFC North division title

Associated Press


Ben Roethlisberger threw for a touchdown and ran for another score, helping the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 27-0 lead against the Carolina Panthers heading into the fourth quarter Thursday night.

Roethlisberger completed 20 of 30 passes for 307 yards for the Steelers, who had a 366-102 edge in total yardage after three quarters. Mike Wallace had three catches for 98 yards, including a 43-yard catch-and-run TD.

The Panthers have not been shut out since 2002, when Atlanta did it to them twice. Pittsburgh’s most recent shutout was 31-0 over Cleveland in the 2008 season finale.

Pittsburgh already has clinched a playoff berth but was tied with the Baltimore Ravens for the division lead entering the game.

Five minutes into the second quarter, Roethlisberger found Wallace on a short pass to the left and Wallace used his speed to outrun the Carolina secondary into the end zone for his ninth touchdown of the season — the seventh of 40 or more yards.

On the first play after the 2-minute warning, Rashard Mendenhall capped an eight-play, 72-yard drive by scoring from 1 yard out. Roethlisberger made it 27-0 on a sneak up the middle from the 1 with 5:15 to play in the third quarter.

Shaun Suisham added field goals of 26 and 29 yards but missed from 41 yards on the final play of the half — his first in 13 attempts since joining the Steelers five weeks ago.

Carolina rookie Jimmy Clausen completed six of his first seven passes as the Panthers drove to the Pittsburgh 32 on their first two possessions before stalling. On the first play of Carolina’s third drive early in the second quarter, Clausen was intercepted by Bryant McFadden.

Three plays after his interception, Wallace scored. Clausen closed out the half with a 1-for-8 stretch. He was 9 for 19 for 67 yards through three.

The Panthers snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 19-12 win over Arizona last week but entered ranked last in the league in scoring (13.1), total yardage (266.1) and passing yards (149.3). Defensively, Pittsburgh was leading the NFL in scoring (15.7) and rushing (63.4).

Jonathan Stewart, who rushed for 460 yards in his previous four games for Carolina, was limited by the league’s best rushing defense to 52 yards on 12 carries through three quarters.

Suisham’s first-quarter field goal came after a replay review cost Pittsburgh a touchdown.

Roethlisberger’s 8-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders at the goal line near the pylon was originally ruled a TD but Panthers coach John Fox challenged the play.

Replays showed Sanders lost control of the ball before hitting the ground.

Carolina took the opening kickoff and held the ball for more than 7 minutes but had 0 net yards and no first downs from the end of the first quarter until the final minute of the third quarter.

Playing its third home game in 12 days, Pittsburgh was without safety Troy Polamalu (Achilles’ injury).

Officials from the NHL were on hand at Heinz Field ready to begin preparing the stadium for the hockey game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals on Jan. 1.

Work on installing the rink was to begin immediately after Thursday night’s game.