The Steelers dropped their preseason finale on Thursday, losing 25-19 to the Carolina Panthers to finish the preseason with a 3-1 record.
The backup quarterback battle, which was the main story throughout the preseason, seems to have been all but solved, as second-year passer Mason Rudolph once again did the superior job of moving the offense and providing the only offensive Pittsburgh score.
After Cameron Sutton intercepted Will Grier with less than 30 seconds to play in the first half, Rudolph went up top to Johnny Holton for a 31-yard touchdown pass on a perfectly thrown strike that dropped right into Holton’s breadbasket.
Rudolph finished 7 of 11 for 125 yards and the score. It was the fourth touchdown of the preseason for Rudolph, compared to none for Josh Dobbs and two for Devlin Hodges.
Dobbs started the game against Carolina, but was mostly ineffective, completing 3 of 5 for 21 yards. Two of the three drives he led were three-and-outs.
Rudolph also connected with Holton on a 44-yard bomb earlier in the game. Holton slipped, preventing him from what possibly scoring a touchdown. That play set up a Matthew Wright field goal.
Holton finished with three catches on three targets for 86 yards to lead Steelers receivers. He also had a tackle in kickoff coverage. The former Oakland Raiders speedster perhaps did the best job of making a case for a roster spot in the preseason finale.
The other big battle to watch came at linebacker, where Ulysees Gilbert, Tuzar Skipper, Sutton Smith and Robert Spillane are in the mix for one or two spots.
Gilbert seems to have cemented his status on the 53-man roster. He blocked a field goal and had three tackles on defense while playing a ton of special teams snaps.
Skipper got the special teams playing time he’d been lacking, making two punt cover tackles to go along with six on defense, including two sacks and a forced fumble. The UDFA out of Toledo finished the preseason with five sacks in four games.
But it was also a good night for Skipper’s competition. Smith played his best game. He had one-half of a sack and 2 1/2 tackles for a loss, two quarterback hurries and a pass defended.
Late addition Jay Elliott made a splash play at outside linebacker, as well. The 27-year-old former Green Bay Packer and Dallas Cowboy sacked Grier, forced a fumble, scooped it up and rumbled 88 yards for a first-quarter touchdown.
The Steelers ceded the lead in the second half when rookie corner Justin Layne was beaten deep down the right sideline.
With the preseason in the rear-view mirror, the Steelers will have a couple of days before they’re forced to make 38 cuts to get down to the 53-man minimum by Saturday at 4 p.m.