CHARLOTTE – In their final tune-up of the preseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers were pushed around by the Carolina Panthers as they played a brand of football that was mostly unimpressive, stagnant and lousy — until their final offensive drive.
Former first-round pick Sam Darnold sliced the Pittsburgh defense up in the first half, leading the Panthers on a pair of scoring drives. The Panthers coasted from there on a hot Carolina evening, eventually topping the visiting sluggish Steelers 34-9 in front of an announced crowd of 70,575 fans.
It was the Steelers’ first loss of the 2021 preseason, which ends with a 3-1 mark.
Darnold looked like something the Steelers did not possess Friday night: a real NFL quarterback. He completed 19-of-25 passes for 162 yards, finishing his day with a 119.1 passer rating.
With longtime starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and backup Mason Rudolph getting rest, the Steelers started Dwayne Haskins under center. Haskins, a former first-round pick out of Ohio State by the Washington Football Team, even called the coin toss at the beginning of the game as the Steelers’ lone representative on the field.
Haskins did anything but impress early on though, calling into question who might replace Roethlisberger this season in an emergency situation, should he go down with an injury.
Of the eight drives that Haskins led the Steelers on, three of them resulted in three-and-outs. Haskins’ third drive of the game ended with an interception, as a ball he threw into the right flat in the first quarter bounced off Derek Watt and into the hands of Carolina defensive end Brian Burns. And the seventh drive Haskins led the Steelers on lasted just two plays, ending with a fumble from Tony Brooks-James.
Fourth-string quarterback Josh Dobbs led the Steelers on their first scoring drive, with a 10-play, 50-yard sequence in the third quarter that ate up 5:19 of clock and ended with a 52-yard field goal from Chris Boswell. Dobbs finished his day with 35 yards on 6-of-11 passing, and was seen moving gingerly on the sideline in the fourth quarter.
Haskins re-entered the game after Dobbs’ apparent injury and played a bit more inspired, leading the Steelers on a six-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with Haskins finding Ray-Ray McCloud for a 22-yard touchdown with 57 seconds to play. In all, the third-year quarterback completed 9-of-16 passes for 107 yards, and rushed three times for six yards.
The Steelers tallied just nine first downs on the night and had 221 yards of total offense. Mike Tomlin’s side gave up three turnovers and forced none. The Panthers, meanwhile, racked up 405 yards of total offense at the expense of a soft Steelers’ defense.
Defensively, Jamir Jones continued to make a strong case for a roster spot for himself, leading Pittsburgh in tackles with eight. The undrafted edge defender from Notre Dame also had a sack and two other hits on the quarterback.
The Steelers will now regroup back in Pittsburgh, and trim and finalize their roster before beginning their 2021 campaign. The regular season begins for Roethlisberger and co. on Sept. 12 in western New York, facing the Buffalo Bills at 1 p.m. on CBS.