CHARLOTTE - The Carolina Panthers ended their preseason with a 34-9 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday night.
Pittsburgh had very little success in the first half on the offensive side of the ball. Their first three drives resulted in three and outs and an interception.
Sam Darnold looked sharp from the opening drive of the game and led the Panthers deep into Pittsburgh territory. However, Carolina stalled out and elected to go for it on 4th down by handing it off to Chuba Hubbard who was stuffed shy of the line to gain.
On the Panthers' ensuing drive, Darnold completed a big pass to DJ Moore on 3rd down for a gain of 18 to move the chains. A few plays later, Darnold handed the ball off to recently converted fullback Giovanni Ricci on 3rd and about 2 but only picked up half of the yardage needed. Newly acquired kicker Ryan Santoso trotted out onto the field for his first field goal attempt as a Panther and banked it in off the right upright from 52 yards out to open the lid on the scoring.
On the first play of the Steelers' next drive, Dwayne Haskins' pass was intercepted by defensive end Brian Burns after bouncing off of fullback Derek Watt's hands. Carolina failed to take advantage of the short field with Joey Slye missing his first kick from 49 yards.
A few minutes later, Darnold evaded pressure with his feet in a clogged-up pocket and sidearmed a pass to Dan Arnold for eight yards, picking up a first down. On 3rd and 2 he caught a huge break as he threw the ball way behind Robby Anderson coming across the middle of the field and bounced in and out of the chest of a Steelers defensive back. Carolina was forced to punt but double trouble struck Pittsburgh as they were called for running into the kicker and returner Mathew Sexton muffed the punt which was recovered by Keith Kirkwood of the Panthers. Kirkwood ran the ball in for a touchdown but after further review, it was ruled muffed ball and that Sexton never had possession of the football, meaning it could not be advanced. Two plays later, Sam Darnold hit Terrace Marshall Jr. on a screen who scurried his way into the end zone from 18 yards out, giving the Panthers a 10-0 lead.
Darnold finished off his day strong leading a 12-play, 84-yard scoring drive. On 4th and 2, Rhule allowed the offense to stay on the field with the ball being in no man's land at the Pittsburgh 41. Darnold found DJ Moore on an out route toward the sideline for a gain of nine to keep the drive alive. He then completed a ball over the middle to Terrace Marshall for a pickup of 24, putting the Panthers on the doorstep. One play later, Darnold ended the drive with a touchdown pass to Robby Anderson in the back of the end zone.
With one solid half of work in the books for Darnold and the starters, Matt Rhule inserted PJ Walker and the twos to start the 2nd half of play. It didn't take long for them to put another six on the board thanks to Walker and rookie tight end Tommy Tremble connecting on back-to-back plays for a total of 45 yards. UDFA signing Spencer Brown found a gaping hole in the middle of the defense and ran in a 20-yard touchdown, pushing the lead to 24-0.
Pittsburgh finally got on the board late in the third quarter after a 10-play, 50-yard drive that was capped off by a 52-yard field goal off the right foot of Chris Boswell.
Carolina answered back a couple of drives later as quarterback Will Grier took off for a 24-yard touchdown rush which included juking out a defender in the open field.
Midway through the 4th quarter, Pittsburgh RB Tony Brooks-James coughed up the football and was recovered by Keith Taylor at the Steeler 27-yard line. The Panthers tacked on three more points thanks to a 27-yard kick from Ryan Santoso.
The Steelers added a late score on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Haskins to Ray-Ray McCloud.
Carolina will now turn its focus to trimming the roster down from 78 to 53 before Tuesday's deadline and then, they will begin preparation for the New York Jets in the season opener.
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