Steelers closing in on AFC North title

When a team suffers a loss and needs a good pick-me-up, the Carolina Panthers often offer the perfect remedy.

A week after losing at home against the Jets, the Steelers rebounded on Thursday night to beat the Panthers 27-3. Ben Roethlisberger completed 22-of-32 passes for 320 yards and one touchdown, while also adding a second score on the ground. On his lone passing touchdown of the night, he read blitz and quickly hit Mike Wallace for a 43-yard score to give Pittsburgh an early 10-0 lead. Thanks to the Panthers’ brutalness, the Steelers went on to collect their easiest win of the year.

With the win, Pittsburgh is now in position to wrap up the AFC North and clinch a bye in the first round of the playoffs if it can beat Cleveland on January 2. And actually, the Browns could help the Steelers well in advance if they can knock off the Ravens this Sunday in Cleveland.

As for the Panthers, the season couldn’t end fast enough for them and John Fox. Their roster is so devoid of talent and it’s tough to evaluate young players like Jimmy Clausen when he has no support around him. Carolina’s running game isn’t bad, but who does Clausen have to throw to? Defenses double-team Steve Smith, leaving Clausen to throw to fellow rookies who are trying to learn the game along with him. And forget protection – Clausen doesn’t have any.

Of course, by this time one would think he would look a little better than he has. He has little to no pocket presence and his accuracy is suspect at best. His decision-making might be coming along a little, but he still does some things that make you want to pull your hair out (like taking a sack on a 4th and 5 in the second quarter instead of just heaving one in the direction of a receiver). Maybe he’ll develop into a solid starter one day but as of right now, he’s showed zero signs of developing. (Again, that’s not all his fault either.)

The Panthers will have an awfully different look to them next season, that’s for sure.

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