The Steelers' 17-16 win over Carolina in the preseason finale had lots of individual winners, coming in wake of the 9 p.m. ET deadline for final roster cuts.
It was a solid, if not entertaining, game all around, accentuated quickly by QB Charlie Batch's surgeon-like precision moving the Steelers down the field and hitting Emmanuel Sanders with a perfect tear drop pass in the end zone. Great concentration and focus on Sanders' part as well, hauling it in just over the outstretched hands of two defenders while going to the ground.
Charlie Batch very well could have just played his final game at Heinz Field. He couldn't have gone out any better. That pass to Sanders really was a thing of beauty, and if it really is the end of the road for the long-time Steelers back-up, it will be a nice image to remember when he's back for two Super Bowl championship anniversary weekends.
Jonathan Dwyer looked every bit like a feature back, and he's gotten better with each preseason game. It's fair to give him the (useless) Preseason Team MVP award, having rushed for 147 yards on 28 carries (5.3 ypc). Looking more balanced and patient with each carry, it's not a legitimate question of who the more talented runner is between he and accepted back-up to Rashad Mendenhall, Isaac Redman.
Chris Rainey showed again the playmaking skills he has, and justified a fairly significant inclusion in the offense this season. Despite the fact neither of them counted due to penalties, Rainey returned two punts for scores, making unblocked defenders miss in the open field and showing incredible speed to the outside. He's the team's kick and punt returner until further notice.
Sean Spence was all over the field until a gruesome knee injury in the third quarter likely ended his season. He even took a few snaps as an outside linebacker - in an effort to keep players rotating in and out and try to avoid injury. Spence was on the other side of the column after the Steelers' Preseason Week 3 win over Buffalo, but looked by far his best against Carolina, and would have given the Steelers even higher optimism in his ability to contribute at linebacker and on special teams in 2012.
Robert Golden may as well have started packing a bag to Denver. Steel City Insider publisher Jim Wexell had opined recently, paraphrasing Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, Golden is a "mini-Dawkins," as in former Eagles and Broncos S Brian Dawkins. It's usually wise to temper the enthusiasm surrounding an undrafted rookie by not comparing him to one of the best players of a generation after three preseason games, but not speaking of ability, but rather, intensity and movement, he really does look like Dawkins. The aggressive angles of pursuit, the sureness of tackling in the open field. Golden injured a hamstring, which felt more like a knife in the back to those who have been watching him. The injury may keep him off a roster he otherwise earned the right to be on today.
DuJuan Harris has essentially zero chance of making an NFL roster right now, and he was essentially brought in so the Steelers could field enough players to participate in Friday's game (although maybe forfeiting the final preseason game is an avenue they'd explore next year). But hats off to him, he ran very well, really showing an impressive second effort and ability to find daylight. He's a certain casualty today, but he was impressive nonetheless.
Special teams: Two silly penalties on both of Rainey's returns as well as other penalties on returns had to hack Tomlin off. The recent termination of special teams coach Al Everest couldn't have played a prominent role, but it was sloppy and something that made a game much closer than it should have been.