STEELERS 33, PANTHERS 17
Steelers' record: 3-1
One year ago: 3-1
Preseason series record: Steelers lead, 7-4
There is only one starting job up for grabs – at right guard – and maybe a handful of roster spots to be won or lost, but for a veteran team like the Steelers, returning almost all of the components it used to win the AFC Championship last year, the primary goal of the fourth preseason game is to get out of it with as few injuries as possible. To reinforce the point, the first-team offense rested Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, Rashard Mendenhall and Hines Ward. The first-team defense rested Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, James Farrior, James Harrison, Bryant McFadden and Troy Polamalu. Ike Taylor didn't play because his broken thumb is still in a cast.
The Steelers had been waiting all summer to see something from fourth-round draft pick Cortez Allen. Dogged by injuries since the day he reported to training camp, Allen's first snap on defense came with 3:23 left in the third quarter against the Panthers. Cortez Allen was covering Armanti Edwards deep down the sideline, and when the ball arrived he tipped it into the air, and Will Allen came down with the interception. Eight plays later, Swayze Waters hit a 53-yard field goal to give the Steelers a two score lead for the first time all night. 26-16.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT
Both teams possessed the ball for exactly 30 minutes apiece.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
* The offensive line – with Trai Essex starting at center and Doug Legursky at right guard – gave Charlie Batch a nice clean pocket and opened up some nice holes for starting RB Isaac Redman on a game-opening possession that covered 80 yards in 10 plays and ended with a touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 9:54 left in the first quarter.
- On that first possession, Redman had four carries for 29 yards and also caught a pass from Batch for 11 more. Batch completed 5-of-6 for 50 yards. The touchdown came when David Johnson recovered a fumble by Mike Wallace in the end zone after a 10-yard catch—and-run where the ball came out as he was reaching for the goal line.
- Jeremy Kapinos handled the punting duties, and he got off to a very string start. His first punt went 63 yards and was good for a 55-yard net when Crezdon Butler made a big hit on the return man; his second punt traveled 63 yards as well.
- Good first half for the kickers. In addition to Kapinos' booming punts, PK Shaun Suisham was 2-for-2 in field goals, including one from 52 yards out. Also, three of his four kickoffs went for touchbacks. In the second half, Swayze Waters made both of his field goal attempts, including one from 53 yards
- In his first action of the preseason, WR Emmanuel Sanders caught four passes for 60 yards. He looked quick, and he turned a sideline route into a 33-yard gain by spinning out of a tackle and running for the final 19.
- Some highlights from the official play-by-play: Jonathan Dwyer had 88 yards rushing on 13 carries, including a 50-yard touchdown; TE Weslye Saunders caught three passes for 32 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown; ILB Mortty Ivy had nine tackles and a sack; CB Cortez Allen had three passes defensed; CB Curtis Brown had four tackles and two passes defensed.
WHAT WENT WRONG
* The Panthers answered the Steelers' opening touchdown drive with one of their own, and it looked rather easy. QB Cam Newton completed 2-of-4 for 25 yards and the touchdown to Jeremy Shockey, and he also scrambled for another 19. A personal foul penalty on Ziggy Hood contributed an easy 15 yards for the Panthers.
- A pass completion to Arnaz Battle that would have converted a third-and-3 on the Steelers second possession was nullified by a holding penalty on Trai Essex. On third-and-13, Batch's pass to Battle was incomplete, and the Steelers had to punt.
- Overall, the Steelers were penalized 11 times for 99 yards, and the one that had to infuriate Coach Mike Tomlin was an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Antonio Brown for excessive celebration on Jonathan Dwyer's touchdown. Brown joined in when Dwyer did his touchdown dance, and that drew the flag. It was Brown's second such penalty in the last two games.
- Dennis Dixon replaced Charlie Batch for the third offensive possession and came out cold. He overthrew a wide open Antonio Brown on first down, he one-hopped a wide receiver screen to Brown on second down, and then he was high to Arnaz Battle on third down.
- On a screen pass to RB Mike Goodson that went for 38 yards midway through the second quarter, Will Allen and Steve McLendon missed tackles.
- Panthers WR David Clowney got away from Crezdon Butler and down the sideline for a 41-yard touchdown catch on a pass from Derek Anderson, who followed Cam Newton as the Carolina quarterback. The touchdown tied the game, 14-14, with 6:56 remaining in the first half.
- The ups and downs of a rookie. On the same series in which he had two passes defensed and made a tackle at the line of scrimmage in run support, CB Curtis Brown also let WR Brandon LaFell get behind him and then he lost sight of the ball on what turned into a 45-yard play to the Steelers 4-yard line.