The defensive line of Kimo Von Oelhoffen, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith completely dominated the Carolina Panthers offensive line and the Pittsburgh Steelers held the Panthers to just 131 yards of total offense.
The Steelers returned to the style of football that has proven successful for Cowher in years past. Mike Mularkey reined in QB Tommy Maddox, 20 for 33 and just 208 yards passing, and relied upon a ball control ground game that resulted in 2 Jerome Bettis touchdowns and 3 Jeff Reed field goals.
2 Steeler turnovers kept the Panthers in the game, but the defense would not be denied this time around.
Over the span of two games, the Steelers defense has allowed just two touchdowns and under 200 yards total offense. While the offense attempted to minimize mistakes, the defense won the game.
The Steelers registered 6 sacks, 2.5 going to the much-maligned Jason Gildon, but more importantly generated 3 turnovers. Appropriately, Von Oelhoffen recovered Rodney Peete's fumble to cinch the victory. And the Steelers last touchdown, an 8-yard touchdown run by Bettis, was set up by a fumble recovery by Aaron Smith.
While the Steelers defense came out with the same fire that allowed them to dominate the Texans, the offense was a bit uneven. Maddox did not seem to get into a groove, though he did find Plaxico Burress, 6 catches for 120 yards and 1 touchdown, early and often in the first half. Maddox's only turnover of the game came on an interception caused by Burress slipping on the horrible Heinz Field turf. Adding to that a muffed punt by Hank Poteat, and the Steelers found themselves in another dogfight with a team clearly not Pittsburgh's equal.
After the turnovers, the Steelers essentially fell back on their running game and let their defense dictate the tempo, holding the Panthers to 0 total yards in the first half and knocking QB Rodney Peete out of the game. The Steelers ran the ball on more than half of their plays and began wearing down the Panthers defense, tacking on a few Reed field goals in the process. Marty Jr. was alive and well against Carolina.
In the second half, the Panthers defense was visibly tired. However, Peete would return and lead Carolina to a 9-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that gave the defense a chance to catch their breath. The Panthers were now within 6 points of the Steelers.
The Steelers offense responded with a long drive of their own, keyed by a 47-yard under-thrown pass to Burress. Reed banged in the 23-yarder with ease, this time choosing not to clank the ball off of the goal post in the process.
The defense took the game from there, looking all the while in playoff form.
Next week, the Steelers face a stiff test in Tampa on Monday night. Pittsburgh fans will find out what this team is made of and if we can expect a January run to San Diego.