Steel City snowjob
Panthers' playoff hopes take critical blow in 30-20 loss
Posted: Sunday December 26, 1999 08:23 PM
Carolina's Patrick Jeffers had 160 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Panthers' 30-20 loss. AP
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Whipping winds, blowing snow, frigid temperatures -- in Pittsburgh, they call it Steelers weather. It apparently blew the Carolina Panthers right out of the playoffs.
As a second-half snow flurry made passing all but impossible, the Steelers turned to a four wheel-drive offense led by Jerome Bettis' 137 yards to win 30-20 Sunday and all but end the Panthers' playoff hopes.
"I had my snow tires on," Bettis said.
Travis Davis scored on a 102-yard fumble return and the Steelers (6-9) survived two long Steve Beuerlein to Patrick Jeffers touchdown passes before the snow started in ending a six-game losing streak.
Bettis finished his second 100-yard game this season with an 8-yard touchdown run with 2:26 to play and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth successive season.
"I asked him after the game, `Who ordered this weather?'" Carolina safety Mike Minter said. "He kept running harder and harder. You let him get started and there's no way a defense can stop him."
The Panthers (7-8) had won four of five and would have advanced to the playoffs if they won their last two games and the New York Giants lost at least once. The Giants lost Sunday to Minnesota.
Now, because of tiebreakers, the Panthers have only an infinitesimally slim mathematical shot that requires, among other factors, the Giants to tie Dallas next week.
"A lot of people were talking all week about scenarios and all of it was irrelevant," tight end Kris Mangum said. "That's what I was saying all week: We need to take care of our business. We lost focus at some point."
Perhaps when it started snowing.
Carolina had a spectacular second quarter to bounce back from Davis' fumble return, the second longest in NFL history. Beuerlein threw an 88-yard touchdown pass to Jeffers -- the longest ever against Pittsburgh -- and a desperation 43-yarder to Jeffers on the final play of the first half to slice the Steelers' lead to 23-20.
"I felt right there like we were going to take control of the game," coach George Seifert said. "My sense was we were going to go down the field on the first series [of the second half] and take control."
But the Panthers went into a deep freeze as soon as the snow began to fall in the third quarter and the temperatures dropped into the 20s, going scoreless in the second half. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's running game ate up yardage and the clock.
Richard Huntley added 72 yards and a 25-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that put Pittsburgh up 16-7 as the Steelers won for only the second time in their last nine home games. They had lost their last three home games.
Mike Tomczak, who couldn't find his receivers even before the weather deteriorated, was limited to 94 yards passing and one touchdown, but the Steelers outrushed the Panthers 211-119.
"Some of the veterans went around before the game and said to the younger guys, `Let's be a spoiler,'" cornerback back Dewayne Washington said. "We weren't making plays before. Today, we did."
Beuerlein became only the 10th quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in a season, going 18-of-36 for 263 yards. But he was only 9-of-20 for 54 yards in the second half.
"The weather definitely had an effect," Beuerlein said. "When people are slipping on the ice, it's hard to be effective."
The snow so intensified that referee Ron Winter briefly stopped play early in the fourth quarter so the goal lines and the sidelines could be plowed.
Davis' fumble return became even more important once the bad weather hit and the offenses stalled. With Carolina in position to go up 7-3, Levon Kirkland knocked the ball loose from Fred Lane. Davis grabbed it and raced down the Carolina sideline for only the second fumble return touchdown longer than 100 yards in NFL history.
Jack Tatum of Oakland set the record with a 104-yard return against Green Bay on Sept. 24, 1972.
"I looked back, and there was nobody there," Davis said of his touchdown, which put Pittsburgh up 10-0.
Carolina answered three plays later with Lane's 41-yard touchdown run, and both offenses scored two touchdowns -- and missed extra points -- in a 26-point second quarter.
Notes: The crowd of 39,428 was the lowest under coach Bill Cowher. There were 20,172 no-shows ... Jeffers has six touchdown catches of 35 yards or longer in his last four games. ... The Panthers lost cornerback Michael Swift with a broken right ankle. Linebacker Dean Wells apparently dislocated a thumb. ... The previous longest touchdown passes against Pittsburgh were 86-yarders in 1971 by Miami and in 1988 by Cincinnati. ... Kirkland had 10 tackles, a sack and forced two fumbles.
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