PITTSBURGH -- For the first time in franchise history, the Carolina Panthers rested all their offensive and defensive starters in their final exhibition, a 19-16 loss.
Though coach John Fox can be a tried-and-true traditionalist at times, he got radical Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers -- and it made tons of sense.
Why risk an injury to any of your best players in a game that means nothing?
Starters usually play only a series or two in the fourth exhibition anyway.
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"It was something we didn't decide until we were in warm-ups," Fox said of the decision to rest the starters.
Asked if the players approved, Fox said: "It wasn't like they were jumping for joy or anything, but I think they respected the decision."
Despite Fox's caution, the Panthers still had an injury scare. Backup quarterback Matt Moore's left leg was hurt on a sack late in the third quarter and he was taken to the locker room for examination.
Fox said X-rays showed no broken bones, but that there would be more tests today. Moore said doctors believe he has a deep bruise in the area of his shin and upper ankle.
Pittsburgh has been the scene of some debilitating Carolina injuries in seasons past. It was here in the 2000 preseason that wide receiver Patrick Jeffers and cornerback Tony Booth were lost for the season with knee injuries.
The Steelers, who won on a late field goal by former East Mecklenburg High kicker Jeff Reed, kept their starters in for only the first two series.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn't throw a pass, but led the Pittsburgh offense on a 77-yard touchdown drive before exiting.
Fox used the game as a night to gain valuable information before making final roster cuts Saturday.
Among the players who had the most at stake:
• Newly acquired wide receiver Samie Parker got a long look as a kickoff and punt returner, a void the Panthers need to fill for about a week or two until Ryne Robinson returns from a knee injury.
• Parker wasn't very impressive, averaging 19.2 yards on four kickoff returns in the first three quarters, giving the Panthers an average drive start of their 20.2-yard line. He gained 6 yards on three punts.
Parker, a fifth-year pro, has no NFL regular-season experience returning kicks.
The Panthers may try to add a returner after final cuts are made around the league Saturday.
• Running back LaBrandon Toefield, signed as a free agent in the offseason, got a chance to try to win a spot on the roster, but managed only 18 yards on 13 carries.
Toefield is a six-year veteran but being challenged for a roster spot by Decori Birmingham (38 yards on nine carries). The Panthers could also keep neither and potentially look to add a back cut by another team.
Toefield started at running back as regular starter DeAngelo Williams, first-round pick Jonathan Stewart and valued veteran reserve Nick Goings were given the game off.
• Moore hardly dazzled before his injury on a night when he wanted to build momentum heading to the regular season.
Moore fumbled a snap to cause a 10-yard loss, was intercepted twice and had at least two other poorly thrown passes. He completed 15-of-27 passes for 164 yards and led the Panthers to two field goals in the first half.
His first intercepted pass was nowhere near a Carolina receiver. Pittsburgh cornerback Bryant McFadden picked it off and returned it 30 yards. The second interception also was way off target.
Moore was shaken up when sacked by Pittsburgh safety Anthony Smith with less than two minutes left in the third quarter. Moore's left leg appeared to buckle underneath him.
Even if Moore is healthy, the Panthers can't feel comfortable about the state they'd be in if starting Jake Delhomme were to be injured. Moore did not direct a touchdown drive in any of the team's four exhibitions.
• Third-team quarterback Brett Basanez made a case for being kept on the roster even if Moore isn't seriously injured. He rallied the Panthers from a 16-6 deficit by leading them to 10 points in the fourth quarter.
He completed 6-of-11 passes for 106 yards, including a near-perfect 29-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hannon with 1:54 left in the game.
n Wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett continued to take advantage of extended preseason playing time, catching six passes for 56 yards, all in the first half.
• Steelers rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall, a first-round pick whom the Panthers passed over in favor of Stewart, got extended playing time and gained 79 yards on 21 carries.
Mendenhall also lost a fumble, caused by Carolina defensive tackle Gary Gibson and recovered by cornerback Ricardo Colclough.
The Panthers finished the preseason 2-2. Their starting defense gave up no points in the first three exhibitions.
Carolina 3 3 0 10 -- 16
Pittsburgh 10 3 3 3 -- 19