Panthers fall to Steelers|Emerge from final exhibition with healthy starters

Published 2:14 pm Saturday, September 4, 2010

By By Darin Gantt, McClatchy Newspapers
PITTSBURGH — The Carolina Panthers learned a few important things Thursday night.
Or at least, you hope they did, since it was hard to tell that anything was accomplished by either side at Heinz Field.
A pitiable crowd of 52,130 souls watched the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Panthers, 19-3, in a fourth and final exhibition that neither seemed interested in playing.
Panthers coach John Fox admitted his main goal was to escape injury free, in time for the Sept. 12 opener at the New York Giants.
‘‘The key was getting our starters ready, healthy,’’ Fox said. ‘‘We didn’t get anybody nicked up, and we’ll be full speed ahead for New York.’’
Ostensibly, the Panthers felt good enough about their starters after three games to not to play them in the finale. And there’s perhaps something to be gleaned about the depth of the Panthers, namely that you can only hope they don’t get into it.
Otherwise, perhaps you worry that John Kasay’s 50-yard field goal attempt hit the crossbar and bounced backward (though he hit a 51-yarder in the fourth), or that the Panthers still haven’t found an acceptable second starting receiver. But for the effort the two teams put into it, you also have to wonder how closely they could grade the tape of this one.
The end result of the last month of fake football? An offense that went an entire preseason without a touchdown, and a defense that performed better than expected.
Is that enough as they go into the regular season just over a week from now? We’ll see. But nothing that was on display against the Steelers will matter much in New York a week from Sunday.
‘‘I think we’ll be ready for the regular season,’’ said wide receiver Steve Smith, who didn’t play a down in the preseason.
Why’s that?
‘‘Because the regular season’s coming,’’ he said. ‘‘You have no other choice. It’s either going to work or it’s not.’’
At least they know Smith is well, and is ready to play. Running back Jonathan Stewart likewise declared himself ready for the Giants, saying if Fox had asked starters to play, his intention was to play.
Asked how his surgically repaired foot and ankle felt, he shook his head.
‘‘I’m not dealing with percentages,’’ Stewart said. ‘‘I’m ready to go.’’
Right tackle Jeff Otah is another story, as he looks the least likely of the three missing pieces on offense to be ready for the Giants game, but they can only hope to get more efficient play in the passing game when they get there.
The interesting quarterback news mostly involved people who didn’t play or won’t play much.
Starter Matt Moore (and the rest of his friends on the first team) didn’t even take the field, modeling stylish white baseball caps on the sideline.
Backup Jimmy Clausen didn’t play either, letting Hunter Cantwell and Tony Pike duke it out for the third job this year.
And boy, did they duke it out.
Cantwell was a clean 6-of-9 for 36 yards in the first half, missing on his only potential big play of the night downfield to Dwayne Jarrett. He was also sacked behind the makeshift second line and pressured several more.
Pike wasn’t any better, going 10-of-18 for 44 yards and a 60.9 rating.
The Panthers even tried to throw a few wrinkles in, if only to give Giants coach Tom Coughlin something extra to think about.
Three times in the first half, rookie Armanti Edwards lined up in a Wildcat-type package, but he didn’t throw. He ran on his first play for a loss of 3 yards, then handed off twice to Josh Vaughan.
In the second half, he opened up a bit more, completing a 6-yard pass to David Gettis on his first attempt, and his 56.2 passer rating for the night puts him ahead of Moore for the preseason (56.1).
Edwards also managed two catches as a receiver and had a clean catch and 17-yard punt return in the fourth quarter.
Edwards is learning on the fly after a wildly successful career as a spread quarterback at Appalachian State.
In honor of that, they call the plays with Edwards in the backfield their ‘‘Mountaineer,’’ personnel group, and they’ve only recently installed the package.
The Steelers gave their starters two possessions each, and they managed a field goal against the Panthers’ second team.
Two field goals by East Mecklenburg’s Jeff Reed and a touchdown pass from Dennis Dixon to Emmanuel Sanders gave the Steelers a 13-0 halftime lead.
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