By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for one touchdown and ran for another despite apparently breaking his nose again in the first half during a 27-3 win against the hapless Carolina Panthers Thursday night at Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger, who originally broke his nose Dec. 5 at Baltimore, completed better than 60 percent of his passes for more than 300 yards against the Panthers even though his face after being slammed to the ground during a first-half sack by Carolina defensive tackle Derek Landri.
The Steelers improved to 11-4 and are one win away, or a loss by the Baltimore Ravens against the Browns Sunday, from clinching the AFC North Division title and a first-round bye in the upcoming playoffs. The Panthers fell to 2-13 and are in line to earn the Cam Newton sweepstakes next April.
The Steelers end the regular season Jan. 2, 2011 at Cleveland.
The Steelers opened the scoring with a 26-yard Shaun Suisham field goal, but that was only after a challenge took a touchdown off the board. Rookie wideout Emmanuel Sanders appeared to cap a drive that began at the Steelers 20 with an eight-yard touchdown catch from Roethlisberger, but replays showed that he lost control as he hit the ground.
Rashard Mendenhall changed the field position immediately with a 35-yard burst around the left end. Carolina linebacker James Anderson whiffed on an open-field tackle attempt that would have held Mendenhall to a short gain. Wideout Mike Wallace caught a 15-yard sideline pass from Roethlisberger, and two tosses to tight end Heath Miller for 20 and eight yards got the ball to the 8.
In between those, offensive tackle Jonathan Scott cost Mendenhall five yards by playing ole’ with a rushing lineman. So, he was replaced by Trai Essex. On third-and-seven from the 8, Roethlisberger scrambled right and fired to Sanders near the right front pylon for an apparent touchdown, but replays overruled it.
The Steelers got near midfield quickly during their second possession, as Roethlisberger connected with Mendenhall for an 18-yard gain. But a Chris Kemoeatu holding penalty and 12-yard sack and slam on Roethlisberger, who appeared to break his nose again, thwarted that drive. Cornerback Bryant McFadden got the ball back, however, when he intercepted a first-down pass.
After a 12-yard pass to Miller and short run by Mendenhall, Roethlisberger hit Wallace down the middle. The speedster raced 43 yards for his ninth touchdown to give the Steelers a 10-0 lead. It was the seventh score for 40-plus yards from Roethlisberger to Wallace to tie a team record set by Bubby Brister and Louis Lipps.
The Steelers ended their first-half scoring with an eight-play, 72-yard scoring drive in 4:42 that was capped by Mendenhall’s one-yard blast on third down. Isaac Redman had a 12-yard run in the drive, hampered by Flozell Adams’ 15-yard facemask penalty, but Roethlisberger erased that with a 35-yard hookup with Sanders. He also fired a 19-yarder to Miller for a first down at the 10.
The Steelers led 20-0 at halftime, as Suisham kicked a 29-yard field goal with 39 seconds remaining. The Steelers had a first down at the 15 on a 40-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Wallace, but after two incompletions an eight-yard toss to Sanders wasn’t enough. The Steelers recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and got to the 15 on a 13-yard pass to Antonio Brown, but after a Roethlisberger sack Suisham missed a 41-yard field goal as time ran out. He was 12-for-12 before that kick.
Wallace finished with four catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. It’s his sixth game with more than 100 yards. John Stallworth has the record with seven.
A short punt and 19-yard return by Captain Munnerlyn set up a 27-yard John Kasay field goal that broke the shutout for Carolina midway through the fourth quarter.