PITTSBURGH-The Pittsburgh Steelers had a dual mission on the eve of Christmas Eve Thursday night:
Win their game against the Carolina Panthers, and don't get anyone hurt in the process.
The first part was obviously successful, as evidenced by the 27-3 final score at Heinz Field.
If you look past another temporary Ben Roethlisberger nose issue, they made good on the second count, too.
As disruptive as Thursday games are, this one played out about as well as it could for the Steelers.
They didn't have to travel, and a short week is followed by a long week, which the Steelers can use at this point of the season.
They don't play again until they visit Cleveland on Jan. 2 in the regular season finale. By then, they'll know whether they have that first-round playoff bye that's important for a team whose stars spend a lot of time in the training room.
Carolina started out with some spirited play on offense, with running back Jonathan Stewart bulling his way through some tackles.
His effort forced the Steelers to make a quick adjustment in their own intensity level. They were fine after that, and the talent gap between the teams became evident.
Experienced quarterbacks have bad days against the Steelers. Rookie Jimmy Clausen had no chance, especially when injuries forced him to work behind a makeshift offensive line.
Clausen will profit from Thursday's experience, but it's not a game tape he'll want to watch more than once.
The Panthers are a mess, and coach John Fox, a former Pitt and Steelers assistant, will probably pay the price for that.
He's been there nine years and even if the 2-13 record isn't his fault, you have to appease the fans and bring in someone new.
As much as people like to connect Bill Cowher to the Panthers, it isn't likely to happen.
Although Cowher is anxious to get back into NFL coaching, he has some requirements. The list starts with a quarterback who is capable of winning a Super Bowl.
The Panthers don't have that.
Cowher likes living in North Carolina, but his personal situation has changed radically since he left the Steelers four years ago.
His wife has died. Two of his daughters have graduated from college and are on their own.
Cowher will find an opportunity somewhere else, and winning there would make him a lock for the Hall of Fame.
Thursday's glorified scrimmage didn't reveal much about Cowher's old team.
The Steelers took care of their business. They'll sit back on Sunday and hope that the Cleveland Browns can knock off the Baltimore Ravens, which would wrap up the No. 2 AFC playoff seed and guarantee a week off.
If the Browns fail on Sunday, the Steelers can still get what they want by winning in Cleveland in the season finale.
Thursday's game allowed the players to get some work in, pad their stats and tune up for the playoffs.
It may have been a good idea to get back-up quarterback Byron Leftwich in the game just to get some work. He hasn't played since the final pre-season game. When your starting quarterback has a broken nose and broken foot, you'd like to have his back-up reasonably fresh in case he's needed on short notice.
But that's a quibble on a night that went according to plan.
The Steelers' slapdown of the Panthers guaranteed them a merry Christmas.
Beginning this weekend, they'll find out how happy their new year might be.
Mehno can be reached at: email@example.com.