The Steelers defeated Carolina 17-16 in the preseason finale, and no one can be happier for the preseason to get here than coach Mike Tomlin.
Unfortunately for Tomlin, his injury-laden roster suffered more setbacks Thursday, and his decisions on roster cuts are due in less than 24 hours.
Tomlin lost LB Sean Spence to what appeared to be a significant knee injury in the third quarter. The Steelers were already without Stevenson Sylvester, and will continue to be without him for at least another week. With the possibility Spence may end up on injured-reserve, it would make the Steelers perilously thin at inside linebacker heading into their Week 1 game at Denver.
A game against Denver means no FS Ryan Clark. One positive this preseason has been the outstanding play of rookie Robert Golden, who put in another quality performance Thursday. However, he went down with a hamstring injury in the second half, the severity of it is unknown, but it may affect Tomlin's decision to keep him on what's more appropriately referred to as his "original" 53-man roster.
It's very much subject to change.
CB Curtis Brown also injured his knee, and word isn't out on the severity of it, either. Brown is expected to provide some depth at cornerback as well as contribute extensively on special teams.
Contributions on special teams, it seems, could be lacking. Spence had played well on punt and kick coverages to this point, and Brown was one of the team's best special teams players in 2011. A guy who could be one of the best special teams players in 2012 is rookie RB Chris Rainey, who ran two punts back for touchdowns, but both were called back on penalties. Just looking at him run, though, showed he's clearly the team's best option in both kick and punt returns. He also looked much sharper mentally than he did in Pittsburgh's last two preseason games, shaking off concussion-like symptoms suffered against Indianapolis in Preseason Week 2. He was one of the few who managed to get hurt but not significantly so far.
One of the most injury-ravaged units this preseason has been running back. With Rashard Mendenhall on the shelf for the foreseeable future, and Isaac Redman getting the night off nursing an ankle injury, RB Jonathan Dwyer added even more fuel to speculative fires that suggest Dwyer - and not Redman - is the team's top runner behind Mendenhall. Another strong performance by Dwyer - the team's unofficial Preseason MVP - will likely mean a decent workload in Week 1.
QB Charlie Batch, a possible cut due to the amount of injuries the Steelers have suffered, hit WR Emmanuel Sanders on a beautiful 37-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. A Shaun Suisham 49-yard field goal spotted the Steelers with a 10-0 lead to start off.
The Panthers added 10 more of their own to even it up, but a Jerrod Johnson strike to TE Weslye Saunders put the Steelers ahead to the last lead they'd need. Carolina missed a field goal near the end of regulation.
The Steelers limp into Denver, but not before 22 more players are lopped off the roster. Final cuts are due to the league office by 9 p.m. ET Friday, and it's likely Tomlin and his staff are working on them now.
Let's just hope none of them suffer any injuries.