The “Thursday Night Football” spotlight shined on the Steelers, who showed that they belong in the conversation as Super Bowl contenders.
Dropping half a hundred will do that.
That the Steelers did it to the Carolina Panthers spoke volumes, as they started the second half of the season with a 52-21 victory at Heinz Field that solidified their status as one of the NFL’s most dangerous offenses — with a defense that was disruptive with pressure and a pick-six.
1. Good JuJu
After Christian McCaffrey led Carolina on a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive for a 7-0 lead on the opening possession, the Steelers countered with a haymaker.
JuJu Smith-Schuster froze Panthers cornerback James Bradberry with a double move, and Ben Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster in stride for a 75-yard touchdown pass to tie the game. Panthers safety Eric Reid couldn’t catch Smith-Schuster from behind.
2. Call him Bince
Thirteen seconds later, the Steelers scored again.
A holding penalty by Jermaine Carter Jr. on the kickoff pushed the Panthers back to their own 12 on the ensuing possession. On first down, T.J. Watt had his arms wrapped around Cam Newton when the Carolina quarterback attempted a sidearm pass.
Steelers inside linebacker Vince Williams — who changed his Twitter handle last year to “Bince” to be recognized as a Killer B — picked off the pass at the 17 and scored on his first career interception return for a touchdown.
The greater importance of the play was that it set the tone for the Steelers pressuring Newton in the pocket.
3. Boz is back
One of the biggest question marks for the Steelers was the inconsistency of Chris Boswell, the Pro Bowl kicker who received a five-year, $22 million contract in late August.
Where Boswell was money last season in making four winning field goals, he missed a potential winner in overtime at Cleveland and four extra-point kicks through the first eight games. But Boswell was perfect on his five kicks in the first half, including a 50-yard field goal for a 24-7 lead.
4. Join the club
After Newton connected with McCaffrey for a 25-yard touchdown pass to cut it to 24-14, Roethlisberger responded with another big pass play for a touchdown.
This time, Big Ben hit Ryan Switzer on a quick slant on third-and-6 for an 18-yard gain to the Steelers 47. Then Roethlisberger tossed a pass deep on the home sideline to Antonio Brown for a 53-yard touchdown and a 31-14 lead with 3:08 left in the half.
Roethlisberger also threw touchdown passes to tight ends Vance McDonald and Jesse James and running back Jaylen Samuels.
Big Ben became only the fifth quarterback in NFL history to record his sixth five-touchdown game. Drew Brees has the most (10), followed by Peyton Manning (nine) and a three-way tie with Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Dan Marino.
5. Just perfect
To say the Steelers passing game was on point would be an understatement.
The Steelers were 8 of 9 on third downs with Roethlisberger at quarterback and didn’t punt until Josh Dobbs replaced him early in the fourth quarter. Big Ben completed 22 of 25 passes for 328 yards and five touchdowns.
That was good for a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at [email protected] or via