Roeth­lis­berger throws for 5 TDs, Steel­ers rip Pan­thers

The Sentinel-Record - - SPORTS - WILL GRAVES

PITTS­BURGH — Ben Roeth­lis­berger’s first pass went for a touch­down. His last did the same.

And in be­tween, the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers quar­ter­back and his red-hot team put to­gether sys­tem­atic 52-21 dis­man­tling of Carolina on Thurs­day night that left lit­tle doubt about their depth and their ta­lent re­gard­less of whether Le’Veon Bell ever shows up for work or not.

Ten dif­fer­ent Steel­ers touched the ball on of­fense. Six of them scored. None of them were named Bell. While the three-time Pro Bowl run­ning back tweeted his thoughts from home while wait­ing — and wait­ing — to sign his one-year fran­chise ten­der, Pitts­burgh ripped off its fifth straight vic­tory with stun­ning ease.

“Re­ally big per­for­mance against a re­ally good team on a short week so there is a lot to be proud of,” Steel­ers head coach Mike Tom­lin said. “But we are prob­a­bly not that good.”

Maybe not, but Pitts­burgh (6-2-1) looked every bit the part of le­git­i­mate con­tender in the AFC, per­haps for the first time this sea­son.

Roeth­lis­berger com­pleted 22 of 25 passes for 328 yards and five touch­downs while post­ing a per­fect quar­ter­back rat­ing of 158.3. James Con­ner, who has filled in ca­pa­bly dur­ing Bell’s self-im­posed sab­bat­i­cal, ran for 65 yards and a score be­fore be­ing eval­u­ated for a con­cus­sion late.

An­to­nio Brown added eight re­cep­tions for 96 yards — in­clud­ing a 53-yard touch­down in the sec­ond quar­ter — to cap an event­ful day that be­gan with the star wide re­ceiver be­ing cited for reck­less driv­ing af­ter po­lice clocked Brown’s Porsche driv­ing over 100 mph down a busy high­way in the north­ern city suburbs.

“This is what we ex­pected,” Roeth­lis­berger said. “We knew we were go­ing to have to put up a lot of points. We did that. The de­fense, they were play­ing like their hair was on fire.”

Bell has un­til Tues­day to sign a con­tract if he wants to play this sea­son. His team­mates have long since tired of talk­ing about Bell’s sta­tus and at this point.

“I’m not go­ing to com­ment on some­one who’s not in the locker room right now,” Roeth­lis­berger said.

And why bother? For three hours on Thurs­day night, Pitts­burgh looked every bit as po­tent with­out Bell as it did with him. If he re­turns, they in­sist they’ll wel­come him with open arms. If he doesn’t, they are in­tent on keep­ing the train rolling. The Pan­thers (6-3) saw their three-game win­ning streak come to an abrupt halt in a city where they’ve never won. Carolina fell to 0-4 all-time in Pitts­burgh and was never re­ally in it af­ter the Steel­ers scored 21 points in the game’s first 11 min­utes.

Cam New­ton com­pleted 23 of 29 for 193 yards and a pair of flips to Chris­tian McCaf­frey that the sec­ond-year run­ning back turned into scores, but New­ton’s show­down with Roeth­lis­berger never ma­te­ri­al­ized. The Steel­ers sacked New­ton five times and rarely let him get com­fort­able. McCaf­frey fin­ished with 138 yards to­tal of­fense (77 yards rush­ing, 61 yards re­ceiv­ing) and ac­counted for all three Pan­ther touch­downs but it wasn’t nearly enough.

“We had a lot of our noses bleed­ing early on,” New­ton said. “We’ve got to stop it and keep things go­ing in our fa­vor. We just got out­played to­day.”

New­ton didn’t help mat­ters when he threw off his back foot out of the Carolina end zone while try­ing to avoid get­ting sacked in the first quar­ter. Pitts­burgh linebacker Vince Wil­liams raced un­der the floater and re­turned it 17 yards for a touch­down to give the Steel­ers a 14-7 lead they never came close to re­lin­quish­ing.

Roeth­lis­berger’s rain­bow to Brown put Pitts­burgh up 31-14 at the half and when Roeth­lis­berger found Vance McDon­ald in the back on the end zone on the Steel­ers’ first drive of the sec­ond half, the com­pet­i­tive por­tion of the evening was over. Pitts­burgh’s 52 points matched the most ever sur­ren­dered by the Pan­thers in fran­chise his­tory. Carolina al­lowed the same to­tal in a 52-9 loss to Oak­land on Dec. 24, 2000.

“They did some good things against us,” Pan­thers head coach Ron Rivera said. “We made too many mis­takes early on to give our­selves an op­por­tu­nity to win a foot­ball game.”

Carolina safety Eric Reid was ejected in the third quar­ter af­ter be­ing called for tar­get­ing when he dived at Roeth­lis­berger’s head as the Pitts­burgh quar­ter­back was slid­ing at the end of an 18-yard scram­ble.

Sev­eral Steel­ers, most of them of­fen­sive line­men, took ex­cep­tion with the hit and a brief scrum ensued. Pitts­burgh cen­ter Mau­r­kice Pouncey said Roeth­lis­berger of­fered to pay any fines the line­men may ac­crue for stick­ing up for him.

Reid, signed by Carolina in Septem­ber, walked over to Roeth­lis­berger and apol­o­gized be­fore be­ing es­corted to the locker room.

“I un­der­stand the NFL is try­ing to pro­tect quar­ter­backs but when they’re run­ning the ball they’re run­ning backs,” Reid said. “I’m not think­ing that ‘It’s Ben, don’t tackle him.’ There’s a guy run­ning with the ball so I’m do­ing my job.”

Roeth­lis­berger and New­ton both wore cleats dur­ing the pregame that paid trib­ute to the 11 mem­bers of the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue that were killed in a mass shoot­ing last month. Roeth­lis­berger’s cleats fea­tured the names of all 11 vic­tims, while New­ton’s cleats read “Ha­tred Can’t Weaken a City of Steel.”

The Pan­thers will next travel to Detroit on Nov. 18 to take on the Li­ons. Carolina is 6-2 all-time against Detroit.

The Steel­ers will visit Jack­sonville on Nov. 18. The Jaguars beat Pitts­burgh twice on the road last sea­son, in­clud­ing a 4542 up­set in the di­vi­sional round of the play­offs.

The As­so­ci­ated Press

SYS­TEM­ATIC: Steel­ers run­ning back James Con­ner (30) cel­e­brates his touch­down against the Carolina Pan­thers dur­ing the first half of their 52-21 win on Thurs­day in Pitts­burgh.

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