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Steelers put on a sorry exhibition in preseason finale vs. the Panthers Friday night

Did Mike Tomlin get any answers about his backups and depth in the Steelers 34-9 loss to the Panthers in the preseason finale at Bank of America Stadium on Friday? Yes, and they were all bad.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

What a stinker.

Perhaps it’s fitting that a bank owns the naming rights to the Panthers home venue—Bank of America Stadium—because Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin might want to apply for more time after the way his team played in a 34-9 beat-down at the hands of the Panthers in the preseason finale in Carolina on Friday night.

I realize that, like most preseason finales, Tomlin sat many of his starters, especially on defense, so it’s hard to truly take the performance seriously.

Don’t worry, I’m not, especially when you consider the fact that Panthers head coach Matt Rhule played most of his starters through the first half of the game. Still, though, weren’t you expecting a little more from the Steelers' backups on Friday night? Weren’t you hoping for a little more fight?

They say the preseason finale is often a showcase for a dozen or so men who are on the bubble as it pertains to making the final 53-man roster. If that’s the case, I’m pretty sure most of those fringe players had trouble sleeping after Friday night’s game.

Receiver Matthew Sexton, a youngster who appeared to be gaining momentum after a couple of monumental punt returns in games one and three of the 2021 preseason, certainly didn’t do himself any favors by muffing a punt early in Friday’s game. The Panthers recovered the gaffe deep in Pittsburgh territory and quickly turned it into seven points.

Sexton certainly didn’t do much after that to help his cause, save for the one or two times when he made the smart move by calling for a fair catch—something that I’m sure was done with great reluctance and with his NFL future flashing before his eyes.

However, Sexton was the least of my worries.

What about that battle for the backup quarterback spot? Dwayne Haskins, who started the final preseason game, clearly didn't do anything to separate himself from Mason Rudolph, not unless he intended to separate himself in the other direction. Haskins completed nine of 16 passes for 108, an interception and a 22-yard touchdown to Ray-Ray McCloud in the game’s final seconds.

I saved the touchdown pass for last because I’m wondering if it will be the final thing the Steelers’ remember about Haskins, who re-entered the contest late in the second half after Josh Dobbs suffered an injury, when they make their decision on the quarterback depth chart for 2021.

Speaking of that touchdown, even that was a bit of a downer in the end, thanks to kicker Chris Boswell missing the subsequent extra point.

As for play-makers on defense, I sure didn’t see any. I guess some players stood out, like cornerback James Pierre and defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs, but not enough to be legitimate talking points for the writers, radio hosts and podcasters of the world.

The Steelers’ backup defense could do very little to stop Carolina’s first-string offense in the first half. That was to be expected, I guess, but what about that failure to slow down the Panthers’ backup offense in the second half?

Even the punting competition left a lot to be desired, as rookie Pressley Harvin looked human, averaging 42.3 yards per kick, while Jordan Berry looked like Jordan Berry and averaged 1.5 yards more per punt. (Btw, did I mention that Harvin was the holder on the failed extra point?)

Back to the offense, specifically the offensive line. How do you feel about that unit? Are you comfortable with Chukwuma Okorafor starting at left tackle? Are you concerned about the lack of playing time for Zach Banner, who is less than a year removed from suffering a torn ACL, at right tackle? Did rookie Dan Moore Jr. continue to progress in the preseason finale, or did he regress right along with everyone else?

I’m no expert on offensive line play, but I sure wouldn’t be surprised if it was the latter.

Again, it was just awful. The Panthers nearly doubled Pittsburgh in total yardage (404-221) and time of possession (36:14-23:46).

I know what you’re going to say, no, the game meant absolutely nothing. The Panthers appeared to have one agenda—getting substantial reps for their starters—while the Steelers had their own plan—a fact-finding mission about the quality of their backups. When discussing Pittsburgh’s mission, however, you might say it was incomplete.

No, Friday’s preseason capper meant nothing. Yes, it was just a glorified exhibition. But if the Steelers went into their fourth preseason game looking for answers about their backups and depth, they’re liking asking very different questions today.