Two plays de­fine Pan­thers’ prime­time loss to Steel­ers

The Herald (Rock Hill) - - Front Page - BY MAR­CEL LOUIS-JAC­QUES mlouis­jacques@char­lot­teob­server.com

For­mer boxer Mike Tyson, a man who hits in­cred­i­bly hard, once said, “ev­ery­one has a plan un­til they get punched in the mouth.”

The Carolina Pan­thers had a plan when they trav­eled to Pitts­burgh for a Thurs­day night show­down with the Steel­ers. They planned to prove them­selves on a na­tional stage. They planned to jump ahead early and stay ahead. Their sec­ondary planned to prove its gelling process was fi­nally over.

After scor­ing on their open­ing drive for the first time this sea­son, ev­ery­thing was go­ing ac­cord­ing to plan for the Pan­thers.

Then they got punched in the mouth.

“I thought ev­ery­thing was go­ing fine un­til we gave up a 75-yard touch­down pass,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “At the end of the day, we talked about stay­ing in the lead po­si­tion and we didn’t, un­for­tu­nately. They ran a dou­ble move, our guy bit up on the dou­ble move and they threw the ball over the top for the touch­down. I can’t give you any other ex­pla­na­tion than that.”

Pitts­burgh scored on its first play from scrim­mage when Ben Roeth­lis­berger hit a wide-open JuJu Smith-Schus­ter for the 75-yard touch­down Rivera men­tioned. Pan­thers cor­ner­back James Brad­berry, who held Mike Evans to 1 catch on 10 tar­gets last week, aban­doned his Cover 3 deep third as­sign­ment and bit on Roeth­lis­berger’s pump fake to James Wash­ing- ton, who ran a quick hitch.

From there, things un­rav­eled faster than a bored dog un­rav­els a roll of toi­let pa­per.

“It was a snow­ball ef­fect from there. We had the mo­men­tum and after play we lost it,” Brad­berry said. “Foot­ball some­times is all about mo­men­tum and I al­lowed them to get the mo­men­tum back. I take the blame for that.”

Pitts­burgh’s lead swelled to 21-7 within six min­utes of game time, even­tu­ally reach­ing 24-7 be­fore Carolina scored its sec­ond touch­down. The op­tics didn’t look good at first glance, but one stop here and an­other score there and this was a game again. A na­tional au­di­ence would see the Pan­thers take a hit and bounce right back — at least part of the plan was still in play.

But then they got punched in the mouth.

Again.

And this time they didn’t get

up.

Four plays after the Pan­thers cut their deficit to 10 points, Roeth­lis­berger and An­to­nio Brown con­nected on a 53-yard score in which the All-Pro beat rookie cor­ner Donte Jack­son in one-on-one cov­er­age. Jack­son clam- ored for a penalty that he’d never get and was calmed down by Eric Reid on the side­line.

The speedy Jack­son kept up with Brown for most of the go-route but fell vic­tim to what Rivera agreed was “a vet­eran mak­ing a vet­eran move.” The game was never in doubt after that play.

He was ad­mit­tedly frus­trated — he and Brad­berry al­lowed a com­bined 107 yards to the four receivers they pri­mar­ily cov­ered in the Pan­thers’ pre­vi­ous two games, a num­ber eclipsed in just two plays Thurs­day. And he re­fused to let those two plays rep­re­sent their en­tire body of work.

Or any part of Thurs­day’s game, for that mat- ter.

“It is what it is. One play each, that type of stuff doesn’t de­fine us,” Jack­son said. “We know what we’ve got. We know we have a lot more foot­ball left to play ... We’re not go­ing to let one game de­fine us — not even one game, two plays, re­ally.”

Carolina en­ters a long week with a plan once again. Rest up, get mo­ti­vated and move for­ward. With seven games left to play, if the Pan­thers have any play­off as­pi­ra­tions, they’ll dust them­selves off and learn how to bet­ter pro­tect their jaw.

They have no other choice. The punches aren’t stop­ping any time soon.

DON WRIGHT AP

Pan­thers cor­ner­back Donte Jack­son tack­les Steel­ers wide re­ceiver An­to­nio Brown in Pitts­burgh Thurs­day. The Steel­ers, led by quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger’s five touch­downs, routed the Pan­thers 52-21.

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