Steelers wrap lackluster preseason with loss to Panthers
Maybe this was the punishment for Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made them play well into the second quarter of this game.
With no one playing close to a complete game, the Steelers earned an ‘I' for incomplete during another uneven preseason that wrapped up with another dreary effort, a 10-0 loss to Carolina Panthers on Thursday night.
The Steelers never got inside the Carolina 40-yard line in their first preseason shutout loss since 1992.
Only about half the starters got on the field — Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Cam Heyward and Heath Miller were among those who sat out — and most only briefly, with negligible results.
“But I think we're on the rise. I know the score doesn't reflect that, but we've gotten better and better with each game,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “We're going in the right direction, ready to put our best out in front of us against Cleveland (Sept. 7) and get the job done like we need to.”
Mostly this was a night for Derek Moye and Justin Brown, Howard Jones and Chris Carter, David Paulson and Wesley Johnson and all those on the roster bubble. Even Brett Keisel, expected to play a lot in his first game since re-signing, was lifted before halftime.
“All you can do is go out there and put your best foot forward and hope for the best,” said backup quarterback Landry Jones, among those competing for the 53-man roster. “It's not fun (not knowing your fate). It's definitely tough. … You can only keep a certain number of guys.”
Jones, who threw three interceptions in playing the entire final preseason game at Carolina last year, was better this time, going 14 of 18 for 97 yards, but he couldn't produce scoring.
“I thought I played well, just didn't get in the end zone. That's the frustrating part,” Jones said. “That's the story of the night. It felt crisp, but we didn't score.”
A week after their charges of marijuana possession created a distraction leading into a 31-21 Steelers loss in Philadelphia, Bell and Blount each got carries with the second-unit offense, though not many. Bell carried twice for 8 yards and Blount had three carries for 7 yards.
Not that there were many witnesses — the announced crowd was 43,514, or about 22,000 below capacity.
With the season opener against the Browns only 10 days away, August didn't answer the many questions the Steelers haul into September. Even if some of the players felt it did.
“The regular season is a lot different. There's game planning, a lot more structure,” said linebacker Jarvis Jones, who had three tackles and a fumble recovery. “We're definitely ready.”
They didn't go winless like they did last August; they ended 1-3. But they followed up a defenseless loss in Philadelphia with an offenseless effort against Carolina, and there aren't many hints whether they are better than they were during an encouraging 6-2 end to last season.
“You're kidding yourselves if you think you're a finished product at this time of the year,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
After an offseason devoted to further incorporating the no-huddle offense, Roethlisberger ran it for only one series in the final 2 1⁄2 exhibition games. And the deeper, more physical running game with Blount backing up Bell, and Dri Archer catching the ball out of the backfield, got almost no work in the preseason.
“But when we wanted to run the ball, we could and we did,” Beachum said.
At least they avoided major injury. Cornerback Brice McCain (groin) and rookie receiver Martavis Bryant (AC sprain in right shoulder) didn't return after getting hurt in the first half.
“That's the big thing – we're healthy,” defensive end Cam Heyward said.
The Panthers turned a fourth-and-1 conversion at the Steelers' 37 — Mike Tolbert's 2-yard run — into Graham Gano's 33-yard field goal following a 14-play opening drive, and that was it for the first-half scoring. And any starters on either side.
Carolina got back on the scoreboard when Joe Webb's 53-yard completion to Philly Brown led to Fozzy Whittaker's 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
None of this counts. But what happens 10 days from now very much does.