This is the third in a series that looks at 17 plays that shaped the Pittsburgh Steelers’ season – one from every game.
For this series, we are going in chronological order.
The setting: The Steelers led the Panthers 9-3 early in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium when Jones turned in the biggest play of the game.
The play: Jones dropped Newton at the Panthers’ 17-yard line, forcing a fumble that Jason Worilds recovered to give the Steelers’ offense a short field. Four plays later – and after an offside penalty on a field-goal attempt gave the Steelers’ offense a reprieve – quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown. The score broke an eight-quarter touchdown drought and the Steelers found the end zone three more times on the way to a 37-19 win.
What it meant for the bigger picture: Jones dislocated his right wrist while sacking Newton and the Steelers placed him on the injured reserve/designated to return list. His injury set into motion a series of phone calls that led to James Harrison grudgingly coming out of retirement and returning to the Steelers. Harrison, who had officially retired Sept. 5 at Steelers’ headquarters, came back out of a sense of obligation to veterans such as Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu, and he played better than anyone could have expected. Harrison recorded 5½ sacks in 11 regular-season games and re-established himself as the Steelers’ best pass rusher. Jones returned from a nine-game absence on Dec. 7 in Cincinnati but the 2013 first-round draft pick played sparingly in the Steelers’ final five games, including their AFC wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Jones simply did not have enough strength in his left hand to do more than spell Harrison down the stretch, making him again one of the Steelers’ biggest question marks heading into the offseason.