The Pittsburgh Steelers finally reached the end of their extended preseason Thursday when the team hosted the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field. It was a beautiful night for football, but the football on display was far less beautiful as the majority of the benches were completely emptied by both football teams. Nonetheless, for those players looking to keep their NFL dreams alive, this game had plenty of meaning.
Despite not having a score recorded in the first quarter, the Steelers made several impressions from a depth standpoint. The offensive line hardly gave backup quarterback Michael Vick time to throw, and the result was very little offensive possession time, and more three-and-outs than the few fans at Heinz Field wanted to see. On the defensive side of the ball the team was gashed on early downs, but started to settle down by the end of the frame.
It was the second quarter which saw the first points on the scoreboard. A long, 11-play Panthers drive ended in a chip shot field goal for Graham Gano. The kick made the score 3-0 in favor of the visiting Panthers. It was only a 3 and out later for the Steelers when the Panthers started their next drive and were able to get to midfield before facing a third and 10. The next play was a draw to Jordan Todman who took the handoff and ran untouched 49-yards into the endzone. A Gano point after made the final score 10-0.
As the two teams shared possessions throughout the second quarter, it was the Panthers who got the ball back with two minutes remaining in the half. Joe Webb was able to orchestrate an 80-yard drive which resulted in a 23-yard touchdown pass to cap off the half. Throughout the first half the Panthers owned time of possession to the tune of 20 minutes to the Steelers' 10.
It took a blocked punt by Roosevelt Nix in the third quarter which would lead to the Steelers first points of the game. Landry Jones would lead the team into the red-zone where the drive would stall. Josh Scobee would make his first field goal as a Steeler to put Pittsburgh on the board, albeit losing 17-3. The Panthers would start the following drive at their own 20 after another Scobee touchback and drive down the field to answer the Steelers' field goal and re-gain their 17 point lead taking a 20-3 lead into the fourh quarter.
It was all Panthers in the fourth quarter, and it started with another Steelers three-and-out which lead to a Carolina drive which resulted in another Gano 27-yard field goal to make the score 23-3 with just over 10 minutes left in the game. It was on the ensuing drive the Steelers actually started throwing the football. Two big pass plays to rookie Sammie Coates put the Steelers in field goal range, and after a failed 3rd and 1 the team settled for another Scobee field goal to make the score 23-6.
The Steelers would continue to move the ball through the air with Landry Jones, and after getting the team into the red-zone he would leave the field with a head injury after being hit after throwing. Michael Vick would come in to hand the ball off several times to end the game, which would eventually lead to the Steelers kneeling out the game after two offensive linemen were injured on the last play from scrimmage.
The Steelers finish the 2015 preseason with a 1-4 record, and will welcome the start of the regular season next Thursday as the team heads to New England to play the Patriots. It will make the first time the Steelers starters will play more than a quarter since the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Wild Card game in 2014.
There are several questions which abound with the team in terms of the defense, injuries and suspensions, but time will certainly give answers to all those questions when the games matter in prime time next Thursday,