Steelers vs. Panthers: Carolina's Biggest Winners & Losers from Preseason Week 4

Stephen Fenech@Fenech2491Correspondent IAugust 31, 2012

Steelers vs. Panthers: Carolina's Biggest Winners & Losers from Preseason Week 4

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    The Carolina Panthers fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-16 in their preseason finale.

    This loss doesn't mean much because the game saw none of the starters get playing time. If the Panthers are hit with a rash of injuries this season, then there will be a reason to be worried. But at the moment, this game shouldn't be viewed as anything more than a final attempt for fringe players to prove that they should make the opening day roster. 

    With the loss, the Panthers fell to 2-2 in the preseason and now can focus solely on their first regular season game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneeers. 

    It is safe to say that the Panthers will look like a different team when that game kicks off, as Cam Newton will be back under center and ready to roll. 

Loser: Seyi Ajirotutu

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    Seyi Ajirotutu didn't have the preseason that most Panthers fans were hoping that he would have. 

    He wrapped up his lackluster preseason by dropping a pass in the first quarter, essentially epitomizing his tenure as a Panther thus far. 

    It remains to be seen if Ajirotutu will even make the team at this point, as the final cut looms in the very near future.

    With Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Louis Murphy, Joe Adams and Kealoha Pilares all locks to make the team, Ajirotutu could be left off the roster.

    If that were to happen, it would mark the end of his career in Carolina, and he would only have 14 receptions to show for his time there.

    While nothing is etched in stone at the moment, it is difficult to draw many positives from Ajirotutu's performance in preseason finale or the preseason as a whole. 

Winner: Tauren Poole

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    Tauren Poole may have earned a spot on the opening day roster with tonight's performance.

    While his seven-carry, 30-yard performance was solid, it was the way in which he earned those yards that make him worthy of a roster spot. 

    Poole is a smart runner who could add even more production the the Panthers' already stacked backfield. 

    Perhaps more important than what Poole did on the ground tonight was his production in the passing game. 

    He hauled in four passes while being targeted six times for 37 yards. If Poole can become a legitimate threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, then the Panthers offense would be even more explosive when he is on the field. 

    Just imagine Poole in the shotgun beside Cam Newton as opposing defenses scramble to predict what that versatile duo is trying to do. 

    Poole led the team in rushing over the span of the preseason, which alone isn't enough to warrant a spot on the team. That being said, the way in which Poole played has earned him the right to make the team. 

Losers: Panthers' Pass Defense

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    The fourth game in the preseason means very little, but the Panthers got torched through the air in their finale.

    Both Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks that saw time performed very well, which wasn't exactly Ron Rivera's goal entering the game.

    Charlie Batch went 11-of-14 for 102 yards and a touchdown for a rating of 120.8. Not a bad game from a longtime backup. He looked as if he deserved a starting quarterback job somewhere. 

    As a rule, you never want to be the defense that spurs people to think about giving an opposing quarterback another chance as a starter.

    Even when Batch came out of the game, the bleeding didn't stop. Jerrod Johnson entered the game in the second half and went 7-of-10 for 78 yards and a touchdown for a rating of 126.2.

    There is no reason to panic yet, but if the secondary turns in a performance like this against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Week 1, there will be.  

Winner: Brad Nortman

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    The Carolina Panthers decided to go with younger punter, and if tonight is any indication, they made the right decision. 

    Brad Nortman averaged 48.7 yards per punt in the preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Considering that the offense struggled at points in the first half, Nortman's punting was one of the only things that kept the Panthers in the game at times. 

    If he is able to maintain tonight's punting average in the regular season, then the Panthers won't be putting their defense in as many unfavorable positions this season.

    While punters are often overlooked, their play can go a long way in determining the success of the team.

    Nortman will be learning on the job—as all rookies do—but he has emerged from the preseason as a winner and the starting punter.   

Winner: Jason Williams

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    Jason Williams played lights out tonight in the absence of Jon Beason and Luke Kuechly. 

    He led the game in both overall and solo tackles, compiling 10 and seven respectively. Overall, it was a very impressive performance that should make Panthers fans even more confident in their linebacking unit.

    If James Anderson were to go down with an injury or miss time for any reason, Williams appears ready to step up at strong-side linebacker.

    As a whole, the Panthers run defense was solid against the Steelers. Pittsburgh averaged just 3.6 yards per rush, while Carolina gained an average of five yards per run. 

    While Williams shouldn't get all the credit for shutting down the Steelers run game, he was all over the place and showed consistency in bringing down the opposing ball-carrier in the open field.