CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It looked like the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to walk away with an easy win for the first time this season, but a boneheaded penalty by special teamer Marcus Allen let the Carolina Panthers back into the game and the Black and Gold had to sweat out a 24-16 victory until the final moments at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.
The Steelers were leading 21-7 when the third quarter ended on back to back sacks of Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold by Alex Highsmith and Cam Heyward. The Panthers were in punt formation, when Allen went over to the Panthers’ huddle during the timeout and was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The 15-yard foul gave the Panthers new life and a field goal. The Steelers offense, which had been moving the ball nicely all game, picked a bad time for a three-and-out, and the Panthers added another field goal to make it a one-score game.
The Steelers were able to drain most of the clock on offense and Chris Boswell hit a 50-yard field goal. The Panthers answered with another field goal, but the Steelers recovered an onside kick attempt with 19 seconds to play to secure the win.
Allen, a fifth-year veteran, plays only on special teams, even when his nominal position, inside linebacker, is best by injuries, as it was on Sunday. Even with Myles Jack out of the lineup with a groin injury, sixth-round rookie Mark Robinson played the first defensive snaps of his career ahead of Allen.
The penalty was one of a string of ill-advised ones for the Steelers. Diontae Johnson took a taunting penalty after a first down in the third quarter. Miles Killebrew had a holding penalty and a personal foul on the opening kickoff of the second half.
They were able to win in spite of those errors thanks to strong play in the running game on both sides of the ball and an efficient performance from backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Trubisky led the Steelers to the red zone on each of their first two possessions of the game, and Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren capped them off with rushing touchdowns. Harris finished with 82 yards on 22 carries, while Warren chipped in with 38 on 11 carries.
On the other side of the ball, the Steelers completely smothered the Carolina ground game. One week after getting gashed by the Baltimore Ravens, they held D’Onta Foreman to nine yards on 10 carries and Chuba Hubbard to 10 yards on four yards.
Forced to throw for much of the game, Darnold was able to have some success in finding D.J. Moore four times for 47 yards and a touchdown. But the Steelers pass rush pestered him all day. The Steelers finished with four sacks, with T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward each having 1.5.
The Steelers improved to 6-8 on the season and kept their slim hopes of making the 2022 NFL playoffs alive. They will return home to face the Las Vegas Raiders on a short week on Saturday.