Last night was rough.
I mean rough.
It had been two years since I watched a fourth preseason game, and I almost forgot just how tough they are to watch. As the team empties the bench, you are seeing more of any players you will ever see during the upcoming regular season.
But Friday was different. With the Carolina Panthers playing in their third preseason game, their starters saw significant reps during the first half while the Steelers used their fourth preseason game as a typical fourth preseason game.
No Ben Roethlisberger. No Cam Heyward. No Minkah Fitzpatrick.
You saw the same game I saw.
However, there is one thing I want black and gold fans to remember after the 34-9 drubbing in Charlotte, NC. A player’s future with the organization, or even in the NFL, will not be based on one performance. And this goes both ways.
Take last Saturday for instance. With the Steelers playing their starters vs. the Detroit Lions’ subs at Heinz Field, fans were treated to a game which left the faithful with high hopes and aspirations heading into the regular season. If a player played extremely well in this game, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have locked in their spot on the 53-man roster.
Likewise, if a player fell flat vs. the Panthers, it doesn’t mean they should go ahead and contact their agent and book a flight out of Pittsburgh when the team returns to the facility.
The coaches have been around these players since the start of training camp, and they have sifted through every practice and game with a fine-toothed comb. One poor performance won’t likely equate to a player being released. It would be a culmination of sub-par play which would do that.
A perfect example of this is Matthew Sexton. Sexton was by far the Steelers’ best return man through the first three games of the preseason, but with his career potentially on the line Sexton dropped the ball — literally. Maybe Sexton would have typically fair caught the punts he fumbled, but feeling the pressure to make a play, he put the ball on the turf.
Only Sexton can answer that question, but the Steelers are unlikely to release Sexton based on Friday night alone. Could they release Sexton based on him being more of a pure return man and not contributing much as a receiver? Absolutely. Could they release Sexton based on not being able to justify a roster spot being used for someone who only return punts? Yes. Would they release Sexton because he made some mistakes Friday night? Highly doubtful.
Right now Steelers fans are wondering what happened, likely waking up Saturday morning feeling as if their once solid grasp on their favorite team is anything but solid. Fear not Steelers faithful. Understand this is just part of the process, and have solace knowing the vast majority of players who will be making plays when the games actually count in the regular season weren’t on the field in Carolina.
Now we start a two week period of limbo where the Steelers will have to trim their roster, and start their official prep for the Buffalo Bills in Week 1. Plenty of time to digest and dissect this preseason, but hold the harsh judgement for the finished product on September 12th in Orchard Park, NY.