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Panthers pressured early and often in 52-21 loss to Steelers

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PITTSBURGH -- Constant defensive pressure and a blazing Steelers' offense gave the Panthers fits throughout their 52-21 loss on Thursday Night Football.

Carolina began the game with a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive for their first points on an opening series since Week 2. Running back Christian McCaffrey continued to produce, compiling 40 rushing yards and hauling in a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Cam Newton to put Carolina up 7-0.

The lead would be short-lived as the Steelers would need just two plays to score two touchdowns. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger started and finished the offense's first drive with a 75-yard touchdown pass to wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, and then linebacker Vince Williams followed that with a pick-six on the first play of Carolina's next drive.

"We talked about staying in the lead position and we didn't unfortunately," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We allowed big plays and we turned the ball over, and you just can't do that and expect to win a football game."

Running back James Conner capped the Steelers' second offensive drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, increasing their lead to 21-7 near the end of the first quarter. A Julius Peppers sack - his third of the season - and a pass deflection by the defensive end helped prevent another Steelers touchdown, but kicker Chris Boswell nailed a 50-yard field goal to make it 24-7.

After the Panthers gained a first down on a reversed call, Newton hit McCaffrey for a 25-yard catch-and-run touchdown to cut into the 17-point deficit. A few plays later, wide receiver Antonio Brown caught a 53-yard touchdown pass over Panthers rookie cornerback Donte Jackson to give Pittsburgh a 31-14 lead heading into halftime.

The first 6:42 of the third quarter belonged to the Steelers, with Roethlisberger connecting with tight end Vance McDonald for a score to end a 12-play, 75-yard series. The Steelers' defense would again pressure Newton as they had all night, sacking him for the fourth time and forcing a three-and-out on Carolina's only drive of the quarter.

Another lengthy touchdown drive gave the Steelers a commanding 45-14 lead. Panthers wideout Curtis Samuel looked to build some momentum on the subsequent kickoff, but Steelers fullback Roosevelt Nix forced a fumble on what was a 13-yard return to end the third quarter. That set up a 9-yard "drive" for another touchdown.

With under six minutes remaining, McCaffrey scored his third touchdown, but the damage was already done as Carolina gave up a franchise-tying 52 points in their third loss of the season.

Newton finished 23-of-29 for 193 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. McCaffrey ended with 77 yards and a score on 14 carries, and 61 receiving yards and two touchdowns on five receptions. Roethlisberger threw for 328 yards and five touchdowns on 22-of-25 completions while Brown and Smith-Schuster combined for 186 receiving yards and two scores. Conner added 65 rushing yards and a touchdown.

For the Steelers defense, defensive end Cameron Heyward recorded two sacks, while Watt, Williams and fellow linebacker Bud Dupree each contributed a sack in a dominant showing. Prior to Thursday, Newton had been sacked just 12 times this season.

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