Dec 15, 2022, 12:45:31 AMyebscore

Steelers, Panthers battle with playoff hopes barely alive

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers are both owners of 5-8 records. But these teams are in vastly different situations. The Panthers are just a game out of first place in the NFC South. The Steelers are pretty much playing out the string unless they win this week and go on a major roll. The two teams meet Sunday afternoon in Charlotte, N.C., hoping to find some late-season magic. "Every game matters to everyone," Carolina quarterback Sam Darnold said. "It's a good opportunity for our team to be able to go out there and win and continue to play good football." Darnold is playing games with playoff implications in December for the first time. It doesn't look as hopeful for the Steelers, particularly with rookie starting quarterback Kenny Pickett in the league's concussion protocol. Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph figure to be taking snaps if Pickett isn't on the field this weekend. Trubisky entered last Sunday's game when Pickett departed and threw three interceptions in a 16-14 home loss to the Baltimore Ravens. "They both are more than capable of going out and executing and running (that) offense," Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks said of Pittsburgh's backup QB options. Pickett is in concussion protocol for the second time in eight weeks. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said if Pickett is able to get enough practice work in by the end of the week and is cleared to play that he'll be on the field Sunday. Rudolph said he's ready if called upon. "I want to play. I want to practice," Rudolph said. "I take advantage of the reps I get. Every competitor wants to be out there for his team." Tomlin has never had a losing season since becoming Pittsburgh's head coach in 2007, but another loss would pin him with that. "It's got to be a mindset that we come in and it starts ?Play 1' and set the tone," Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith said. The Panthers still remain near the bottom of most offensive statistical categories. However, Carolina's 20 points per game are more than Pittsburgh's 17.5, which ranks 27th in the NFL. The key for the Panthers seems to be ball security. In their five wins, there hasn't been an interception thrown by a Carolina quarterback and the team has gone without a turnover in four of its five victories. In the last four wins, running back D'Onta Foreman has averaged 108.8 rushing yards per game, so the Panthers are going to want to crank up that ground attack. The offensive line has been stellar of late. "It's nice to have the stability (with that unit)," Darnold said. "Those guys deserve as much credit as anybody on the team." Carolina's offense had an encouraging development Wednesday when receiver DJ Moore, who had an injured ankle, was a full practice participant. "It was great to see him out there running around and executing," Wilks said. It has come so full circle for the Panthers that kicker Eddy Pineiro, who might have been in danger of losing his job after a loss at Atlanta, is the most recent NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after booting three field goals and three extra points last week at Seattle. The Steelers are 6-1 head-to-head against Carolina. This figures to be a particularly relevant game for Carolina owner David Tepper, who was a minority owner of the Steelers before purchasing the Panthers. --Field Level Media