CHARLOTTE – What do you think of when you think of the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Historically, the Steelers have been a model for football success, a franchise that wins more than most and gets the job done by being both aggressive and level-headed at the same time.
Entering Sunday night's game at Bank of America Stadium, the Carolina Panthers were closing in on a calendar year of playing the Steelers' style of football better than the Steelers.
But Sunday, Pittsburgh regained its historic form.
The Panthers, meanwhile, lost it – if only for one night, they hope.
"They played to what their character is, and we didn't," head coach Ron Rivera said. "That's the bottom line."
In the Steelers' 37-19 victory that left both teams with 2-1 records but one understandably feeling better about itself than the other, neither team looked like its recent self.
That was just fine by the Steelers, who entered play 17-17 over their last 34 games following a lopsided loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The change in fortune didn't sit as well with the Panthers, who had won eight consecutive regular season home games before Sunday's struggles.
The Panthers entered Week 3 as the only NFL team not to turn the ball over this season, but Sunday they turned it over twice while forcing none. The Panthers entered Week 3 allowing just 86 rushing yards per game, but two Steelers backs surpassed 86 yards and didn't stop until they eclipsed the century mark.
Even with just about everything tilted in favor of Pittsburgh on the stat sheet, Carolina still had a chance on the scoreboard most of the night – only to put themselves behind the eight-ball again and again.
A pair of pass interference calls that netted the Steelers 62 yards helped them net two of their three first-half field goals on their way to a 9-3 lead. The Panthers were fortunate to hold Pittsburgh to a field goal early in the second half after quarterback Cam Newton was hit and lost a fumble at his own 17-yard line, but an offside penalty on the attempt brought the Steelers offense back out and resulted in a touchdown and a 16-3 lead.
An 81-yard run by Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell on the Steelers' next drive – the longest ever allowed by Carolina – set up another touchdown for a 23-6 lead. The Panthers offense answered with its first touchdown and the defense followed with its first three-and-out since the first quarter, but then rookie Philly Brown mishandled the resulting punt and the Steelers recovered in the end zone for a 30-13 lead.
"We did a lot of things wrong," tight end Greg Olsen said. "You're not going to beat a good team playing that poorly. We didn't give ourselves a chance."
Newton, looking back on the week leading up to Sunday night, could see it coming.
"You kind of had the feeling this past week because they were a couple of plays where we were like, 'All right, we'll get it come game time. Don't worry about it. Move onto the next play,' " Newton said. "Losing is never good, but this type of game today will be good for our personality. There were too many lackadaisical plays rather than focusing in and honing in on each and every play."
You can rest assured that practice will take on a different tenor this week.
Sunday's loss was a tough one to take, but it's not the end of the world. In missing out on a chance to start 3-0 for the first time since 2003, the Panthers did what 28 other teams had done before Sunday night – they lost a game.
What they do next is what really matters.
"Sometimes you need that to humble yourself," defensive tackle Kawann Short said. "Last year, we lost the first couple of games, but we knew what we were capable of. That was last year, but we know what we're capable of this year, too. We've just got to fight and stay together."