Mitch Trubisky threw for 179 yards and engineered three long touchdown drives as the Pittsburgh Steelers held on to beat Carolina 24-16 on Sunday, dealing the Panthers’ playoff hopes a major blow.
Trubisky, filling in for concussed rookie Kenny Pickett, ran for a 1-yard touchdown and played turnover-free football. Najee Harris carried 24 times for 86 yards and a touchdown and Jaylen Warren added a 2-yard TD run for Pittsburgh (6-8), which has won three of its last four.
The Panthers (5-9) entered the weekend in control of their playoff destiny, needing four wins in four games to win the unimpressive NFC South.
But Carolina, a run-first team, couldn’t get anything going on the ground.
The Panthers had averaged 191.6 yards rushing in their five wins this season, but managed just 21 yards on 16 carries as the Steelers stacked the box and dared Sam Darnold to beat them.
Darnold finished 14 of 23 for 225 yards with a 5-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Moore, but was sacked four times, and the Panthers struggled in the red zone.
The Steelers came in having dominated the series, winning the previous six games by a combined margin of 213-80 with all of those wins by at least 10 points.
This one was much closer.
Trubisky led the Steelers on touchdown drives of 67 and 75 yards on Pittsburgh’s first two possessions with Harris and Warren scoring on short runs for a 14-7 halftime lead.
Pittsburgh got the ball to start the second half and put together a 21-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that took nearly 12 minutes off the clock, culminating in Trubisky reaching the ball over the goal line to score on a QB sneak.
The Steelers appeared to bury the Panthers in the fourth quarter when they came up with back-to-back sacks of Darnold to set up fourth-and-27. But as the Panthers were setting up for a punt, Pittsburgh’s Marcus Allen ran over to the Carolina sideline and began berating Panthers players, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and giving Carolina a first down.
Carolina finished that drive with a field goal by Eddy Pineiro. After a Steelers punt, Pineiro made another short kick to get the Panthers within 21-13.
But the Steelers burned another 5:13 off the clock and went 43 yards to set up Chris Boswell’s 50-yard field goal to make it a two-possession game.
Pineiro’s third field goal, a 52-yarder, trimmed the lead to eight with 19 seconds left, but George Pickens recovered the onside kick.
WATT’S ELITE COMPANY
T.J. Watt’s first half-sack was the 75th of his 84-game career, making him the third-fastest player to reach that mark since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. Only Hall of Famer Reggie White (65 games) and T.J.’s older brother J.J. Watt (82) got to 75 in fewer games.
Panthers: CB C.J. Henderson sustained an ankle injury in the first half and did not return.
Steelers: Host Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Panthers: Host Detroit on Saturday.