Steelers end preseason quietly
By Will Graves
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH – Cam Newton plans to have a very different view the next time he sees the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Carolina Panthers star, however, is OK if it ends with the same result he watched Thursday.
Fozzy Whittaker ran for a 2-yard touchdown, Graham Gano added a short field goal and the Panthers beat the listless Steelers 10-0 in the preseason finale.
The teams meet again in Charlotte on Sept. 24. By then, Newton’s dinged-up ribs should be fine. Newton insists he’ll be ready by the season opener in 10 days against Tampa Bay and could start throwing again this weekend.
“I feel pretty good now, and we have more than a week now until the opener,” Newton said. “So, we’ll see what happens as we get more into the week.”
Whittaker finished with 91 yards rushing for Carolina (2-2) and the defense did the rest as Carolina held the Steelers (1-3) to 185 total yards.
“He is showing toughness,” coach Ron Rivera said of Whittaker. “He got bumped a little bit, but he stuck it out.”
Carolina backup quarterback Derek Anderson – just hours removed from the birth of his first child with wife Mallory – led a 14-play, 62-yard drive to open the game. The methodical march included a fourth-and-1 conversion in Pittsburgh territory, perhaps early proof Rivera plans to keep the swashbuckling approach that helped turn the Panthers around in 2013 and earned him NFL Coach of the Year honors.
Anderson had some help in the only consequential drive by either side with players who will see regular playing time when the games start to count. Carolina rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin hauled in a 19-yard pass to get the Panthers going. Benjamin finished with four catches for 56 yards and had little trouble getting open against Pittsburgh’s aggressive secondary.
“We are confident with (Benjamin) and we know he needs to learn and grow, it’s all part of the game,” Rivera said. “I guess it’s a little risky, but he has to learn. If he doesn’t learn now, he’s going to have to learn while we are running and we don’t want that.”
The drive was the highlight of Anderson’s night, at least on the field. He arrived in Pittsburgh overnight after his wife gave birth to their daughter Amelia. He completed 8 of 14 passes for 98 yards and left late in the second quarter when he injured his right hand trying to corral a snap that sailed over his head.
Pittsburgh linebacker Jarvis Jones recovered, one of the few highlights for the Steelers on a night that did little to provide the momentum boost head coach Mike Tomlin was looking for heading into the season.
“We’re very much still a team in development, like all teams are,” Tomlin said. “I think you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re a finished product this time of year.”
Steelers third-string quarterback Landry Jones started, but did little to assure himself of a roster spot when the rosters are trimmed to 53 players. Jones completed 14 of 18 passes for just 97 yards and failed to lead the Steelers into scoring range while Roethlisberger watched from the sideline with a towel around his shoulders.
Pittsburgh’s first-string defense ended up working more than usual. Tomlin sent all the healthy names atop the depth chart onto the field to start the game, including defensive end Brett Keisel, who re-signed with Pittsburgh last week. Tomlin wanted to see if Keisel could “swim in the deep end of the pool.”
While Keisel looked spry for a player who turns 36 in a few weeks, the first unit allowed points for the fourth consecutive week.
Steelers running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount – a week removed from being cited on marijuana possession – started the game on the bench but played sparingly in the first half. The team plans to discipline both players, but Tomlin stressed he would not reveal the punishment.
Either way, Bell and Blount will be heavily involved this fall. The circumstances required for Landry Jones to see playing time the rest of 2014 are probably too farfetched to even ponder, but the former Oklahoma star didn’t exactly produce a compelling argument for the Steelers to keep three quarterbacks on the active roster behind Roethlisberger and backup Bruce Gradkowski.
Jones declined to speculate on whether he’ll still have a job next week.
“I have no idea,” he said. “This business, being cut, staying here, that’s so far out of my control I don’t even like thinking about it.”