The Steelers' offense, led by back-up quarterbacks Landry Jones and Brendan Kaye, failed to score in the team's seventh loss in its last eight preseason games.
Carolina capped a 14-play, 62-yard game-opening drive with a 33-yard field goal by Graham Gano. The Panthers held onto the ball for 5:38 and converted four plays for first downs against a Steelers starting defense that was without end Cam Heyward, strong safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Cortez Allen and outside linebacker Jason Worilds.
The Steelers had a short drive on their opening possession, but was stopped on fourth and short after gaining just two first downs. Markus Wheaton ran 15 yards on the opening play. Tight end Mike Palmer had a nice downfield block to spring him. Fullback-tight end Will Johnson ran for a first down as well, but LeGarrette Blount -- on the bench, along with Le'Veon Bell, to open the game -- was stuffed on fourth-and-one at midfield.
The Steelers also played without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wideout Antonio Brown, center Maurkice Pouncey and tight end Heath Miller on offense. Wesley Johnson started at center, as backup Cody Wallace is out with an injury, and Landry Jones was the starting quarterback.
Jones wasn't exactly sharp during his opening three possessions, but his long pass to Johnson nearly overcame a situation where he couldn't get rid of a pass quickly enough and nearly was sacked in the end zone. However, the refs ruled that he was stopped at the 1. Jones then connected with Johnson for what was ruled a 19-yard gain and first down at the 20, but a Carolina challenge forced an overturn to 18 yards and short of the sticks.
The Panthers' Derek Anderson, starting at quarterback for injured Cam Newton, was strip-sacked by Jarvis Jones. He recovered and appeared on his way to a touchdown return, but a horse-collar tackle by Fernando Velasco -- who played for the Steelers last year -- actually grabbed Jones by his long hair. It was reminiscent of Larry Johnson doing the same to Polamalu against the Chiefs several years ago.
The Steelers couldn't get into field-goal range then nor later despite a late hit on the final drive and first-down passes to Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Brown. So, the first half ended with the Panthers holding a 3-0 advantage and neither offense doing much more than moving the ball between the 20s.
The Steelers got the ball to open the second half, after deferring at the opening kickoff, and converted two third-down plays after opening the game at 0-for-5. Jones connected with Derek Moye and Heyward-Bey for 10 and seven yards, respectively, for the first downs. But on third-and-nine, a four-yarder to Moye didn't get it done. At least punter Brad Wing pinned the Panthers at their 10.
The defense couldn't follow that with a three-and-out, however, as a penalty gave Carolina a first down at the 19. And with Joe Webb at quarterback, replacing 10-year veteran Derek Anderson -- who while playing for the Cleveland Browns threw for more than 400 yards against the Steelers -- fired a 53-yard completion to Philly Brown to the 2. And Fozzy Whittaker banged in from there to give Carolina a 10-0 lead with 6:24 remaining in the third.
Third-year cornerback Antwon Blake was burned several times on the drive, including the long pass that set up the score, as he replaced injured Brice McCain (groin). Other in-game injuries for the Steelers were wideout Martavis Bryant (right shoulder) and free safety Mike Mitchell (right leg).
Jones, who was 14-for-18 for just 97 yards, was replaced by rookie Brendon Kay with 6:19 left in the third. Kay led the Steelers to a couple of first downs with a 13-yard pass to Lanear Sampson and 10-yard run by Stephen Houston, but Houston also was thrown for a loss and Kay was sacked to move the Steelers backward after moving from their 15 to midfield.
The club's next possession began at their 11, and Kay threw too high to tight end Rob Blanchflower after a short run by Josh Harris. The ball was deflected and nearly picked off. Harris took a delayed run on third down and bolted 31 to the Steelers 44, and Kay had some breathing room.
The drive stalled from there, as first-year lineman Graham Pocic was called for two holding penalties, although one was negated when the play netted minus-1 yard. Kay was running for his life on the other downs and couldn't convert.
Carolina missed a 39-yard field goal with 1:45 remaining.
Notes: The attendance was 43,514. ... The final cut-down to the 53-man roster is Saturday by 4 p.m. ... The practice squad and waiver claims can be made Sunday. ... The Steelers then get into their regular-season game mode after a few days off. ... The Steelers open with two AFC North foes -- the Cleveland Browns Sept. 7 at Heinz FIeld and the Baltimore Ravens Sept. 11 on the road.
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