Do not tell the players who suited up that tonight’s game was a meaningless game as members of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers competed for perhaps their last chance at securing a place on the 53-man roster. In the end, it was the Panthers who broke ahead and ended the Steelers’ bid at an undefeated preseason.
The Panthers spoiled an otherwise brilliant performance by the Steelers’ defense as Taylor Heinicke closed out a 97-yard drive with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Scarlett to give the Panthers a 17-16 lead with just under ten minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Panthers would not squander the lead, going on to win 25-19.
While their effort was spoiled, the Steelers’ defense put together their best ‘Blitzburgh’ impression, finishing with six sacks, two interceptions and a defensive touchdown. Cam Sutton grabbed the first interception while Marcelis Branch grabbed the second. Leading the team in sacks was none other than Tuzar Skipper who capped off an impressive preseason with a dominant showing tonight.
The undrafted rookie linebacker notched two more sacks, giving him five sacks for the entire preseason. Skipper also answered the million-dollar question that could make or break his bid to make the starting roster as he played a handful of special team snaps as well.
The Panthers jumped all over the Steelers in the first quarter but you would not be able to tell by looking at the scoreboard. The Panthers produced 172 yards of offense in the first quarter while the Steelers managed just three but yet it was the Steelers who led 7-0.
The Steelers bent but did not break as Ulysees Gilbert III blocked the Panthers’ first field goal attempt and newly sjgned outside linebacker Jayrone Elliot stripped Will Grier and recovered the football, taking it 88-yards to the house.
Grier managed to settle down and even put the Panthers up ahead as he connected with a streaking Aldrick Robinson for a 34-yard touchdown pass over the head of rookie corner Justin Layne. The rookie cornerback has not had an easy preseason as his first taste of the NFL has been a difficult one.
Josh Dobbs got the start for the Steelers but failed to do much with the opportunity, completing just 3/5 passes for 21 yards. Dobbs has now failed to lead the Steelers to the end zone all preseason and has left no doubt that he has squandered the backup quarterback spot to Mason Rudolph.
If there were any non-believers in Rudolph’s talent at the beginning of this game, there certainly were not any left by the end of it. The second-year quarterback continued right where he left off, spreading the football around and standing with poise in the pocket.
Rudolph made all the throws, hitting Diontae Johnson on the sideline, Johnny Holton deep and then finally hitting Holton again in the back of the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown pass that gave the Steelers a 16-10 lead going into the half. Holton led all Steelers’ receivers with three catches for 86 yards.
Rudolph was relieved by Devlin Hodges after the first half. Hodges was only able to add three points to the board and threw an interception late that would lead to the Panthers taking a two-possession lead, all but sealing the game.
The field goal competition seemed to be settled as well tonight as Matthew Wright struggled to find his footing tonight, missing a 47-yard field goal and an extra point attempt.
Benny Snell Jr. also had another rough night, adding just 12 yards on eight carries. Snell has had not had the impact that many imagined as he averaged just 1.6 yards per carry during his first preseason.
That concludes the 2019 preseason and the Steelers will now prepare to take on the defending Super Bowl champions on the road as they take on the New England Patriots for a very special edition of Sunday Night Football on September 8.