Carolina Panthers

Ho-hum

CHARLOTTE -- For a long time Thursday, it looked like the only fireworks would be provided by the pregame lightning storm.

And to be honest, the region needed the rain that came with it far more than anyone needed this particular exhibition of football.

The Carolina Panthers dropped their preseason finale 19-3 to Pittsburgh in a game played to befit its meaninglessness.

The Steelers won, thanks to six Panthers turnovers, but it wasn't as if they did a lot of things to impress a significantly partisan crowd at Bank of America Stadium.

The game was contested in fits and starts, with both teams shielding their truly important players for next week.

The Panthers held out quarterback Jake Delhomme, wide receiver Steve Smith and linebacker Dan Morgan. They'd have been the lucky ones, except they stayed on the sidelines to watch.

The real winners might have been those scared away by the weather alert, since the game never really came back even though the players did.

The Panthers' first defense played just one series of five plays, highlighted by Kris Jenkins' sack of Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger.

It marked another night in a non-descript preseason for the stop-side, which played well enough against the N.Y. Giants but leaked against Philadelphia and New England. The starters forced just one turnover the entire preseason, a fumble recovery by defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu against Philadelphia.

"I don't think we are really where we want to be," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "We haven't done a good job of creating turnovers. I think we have some things to work on."

The starting offense -- minus Delhomme and Smith -- played two series, with David Carr completing a few nice passes but putting no points on the board. He scored with the second team, setting up a second-quarter field goal after a nice 46-yard connection with Dwayne Jarrett.

It appears the Panthers have found their line for next weekend's regular season-opener at St. Louis. They left rookie Ryan Kalil at right guard and Justin Hartwig at center, as they did last week.

"I think we've got our starters lined up now for opening week," right tackle Jordan Gross said. "The second offensive line has done a nice job this game. We've definitely got some good depth, and I expect good things out of this group."

They still struggled in the kicking game, but for different reasons. John Kasay missed a 51-yard field goal in the first quarter after having two blocked last week. He hit a 31-yarder in the second quarter to break a streak of three straight misses.

The Steelers tied the game in the second quarter with Jeff Reed's field goal, taking advantage of the short field provided by tight end Michael Gaines' fumble.

Gaines took two steps and dropped the ball, and giving anyone credit for forcing it would just be a case of being polite to the visitors.

The Steelers claimed a 6-3 lead in the third quarter on Reed's 31-yarder, capping a drive helped by Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson's 15-yard personal foul for a wild elbow.

They got another break on the next Panthers' possession, with running back Alex Haynes fumbling, giving them a short field which they turned into Reed's 30-yarder and a 9-3 lead with two minutes left in the third quarter.

Reed added a fourth (from 37 yards) after Panthers wideout Taye Biddle couldn't hold onto a punt return, adding to the night of special teams miscues.

The Steelers added a fourth-quarter touchdown after Tyrone Carter intercepted Dalton Bell and returned it 32 yards.

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