CHARLOTTE, N.C. _ The Steelers came up six points short of their first undefeated preseason in 22 years when they were beaten by the Carolina Panthers, 25-19, on Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium.
The Steelers (3-1) last went unbeaten in a preseason when they went 5-0 in 1997.
The Steelers' defense opened the scoring for the second game in a row, this time by turning a takeaway into a touchdown.
Inside linebacker Jayrone Elliott sacked Panthers quarterback Will Grier on second-and-goal from the Steelers' 5-yard line, forced a fumble, recovered and returned the ball 88 yards into the opposite end zone. Kicker Matthew Wright's extra point made it 7-0 Steelers with 4:35 left in the first quarter.
Carolina countered with a 59-yard field goal from kicker Joey Slye that made it 7-3 with 12:45 left in the second.
Wright was wide right on a 47-yard field goal attempt just inside the two-minute warning prior to halftime. Punter Ian Berryman held and outside linebacker Christian Kuntz snapped.
The Panthers responded with a five-play, 63-yard drive for a touchdown in 43 seconds.
The capper was a 34-yard pass from Grier to wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, who beat cornerback Justin Layne. Slye's extra point made it 10-7, Carolina.
Wright's 49-yard field goal with 29 seconds left in the second quarter tied the game at 10-10, but the Steelers weren't done yet.
Cornerback Cam Sutton picked off Grier on the Panthers' next offensive snap. The Steelers' first interception of the preseason and Sutton's 2-yard return set the offense up at the Carolina 31.
Quarterback Mason Rudolph turned the next snap into a 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Johnny Holton nine seconds prior to the break.
Wright missed the extra point and the teams went to their locker rooms at halftime with the Steelers ahead, 16-10.
Carolina regained the lead via a 10-play, 97-yard drive in 4:52 that ended on an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Taylor Heinicke to running back Jordan Scarlett with 8:30 left in the fourth quarter. Slye's conversion made it 17-16 Carolina.
The preseason finale featured the Steelers' less-established players.
None of the first-team players listed on the depth chart started on offense or defense.
No. 1 pick Devin Bush opened the first three defensive series next to Tyler Matakevich at inside linebacker and played into the second quarter. Bush finished with six tackles.
Wide receiver James Washington was targeted four times in the first half and finished with one catch for 5 receiving yards in the first two quarters. Washington played into the second half.
Josh Dobbs started at quarterback for the Steelers and completed three of five passes for 21 yards. Dobbs also rushed once for 11 yards.
Rudolph's three possessions resulted in a missed field goal, a field goal and a touchdown. Rudolph went 7-for-11 passing for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Devlin Hodges took over at quarterback in the third quarter.
The Panthers turned an interception on a Hodges pass intended for tight end Zach Gentry in the fourth quarter into a four-play, 34-yard touchdown drive in 2:12. Heinicke's 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Temarrick Hemingway and two-point conversion pass to running back Elijah Holyfield made it 25-16 Carolina with 4:32 left in regulation.
Wright kicked a 42-yard field goal that drew the Steelers to within 25-19 with 58 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Holton caught a 44-yard pass from Rudolph on the drive that ended with Wright's 49-yard field goal and finished the first half with three catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.
The defense registered three more sacks in the first half (Elliott, Kuntz and outside linebacker Sutton Smith/defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs).
Outside linebacker Tuzar Skipper produced a pair of sacks in the third quarter, and forced a fumble on the second (Carolina recovered). Skipper's fourth and fifth sacks of the preseason extended his streak to at least one for the fourth consecutive game.
Inside linebacker Robert Spillane also had a sack in the third quarter, the Steelers' 20th of the preseason.
Inside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III blocked a 48-yard field goal attempt at the conclusion of Carolina's first possession.
Safety Marcelis Branch had an interception in the third quarter.
The Steelers open the regular season on Sept. 8 at New England.
Game action photos from the Steelers' fourth preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium