This loss was unlike any of the other three the team has endured this offseason, mainly because they pretty much dominated the stat sheet.
After looking at some of these numbers, it's hard to believe the Panthers lost this game.
The Panthers ran 74 total plays—30 more than Pittsburgh—and picked up eight more first downs than the Steelers. There was also a 109 yard difference in total yardage, again favoring the Panthers.
Carolina picked up 123 more yards in the air than Pittsburgh, and just about leveled with them in the ground gain. The Panthers converted almost 44 percent of their third downs, while the Steelers converted 20 percent.
The Panthers had a more than 10 minute advantage in time of possession, and both teams scored one offensive touchdown.
How, then, do you explain the 21-10 loss?
For starters, I'll introduce the Carolinas to one Stefan Logan, who scorched the Panthers punt coverage team for an 80-yard return for a touchdown after the team's first possession. Logan would also tack on 27 rushing yards on two carries.
Logan, a former player in the CFL entering his second year out of South Dakota, looked like the created player that we've all created at least once in our lives on Madden. You know, the one with 99 speed and 99 agility that is just about impossible to catch or even lay a hand on.
A Josh McCown fumble led to the Steelers' only offensive touchdown, a 10-yard bulldozer-esque run by Isaac Redman, who disposed of both Julius Peppers and Chris Harris on his way to the endzone.
The Panthers managed a one yard touchdown rush by Jamall Lee in the third quarter before Matt Moore was hit on a play and had his pass picked off by Ryan Mundy and returned for a touchdown.
A John Kasay field goal in the fourth would cap the scoring.
Now that the preseason is over, the time where the questions are supposed to be answered and the wrinkles ironed, the Panthers are left with an 0-4 record, a banged up group of starters, and several glaring questions as they await their Sept. 13 showdown with Philadelphia in the regular season opener.
The good news, though scarce, is that the Panthers again looked better. I think it is safe to say that the Panthers made improvements from each preseason game to the next, no matter how small. Often times in the game of football it can be the smallest improvements that spark the most important ones.
Let's take a look at what happened on Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium in the final preseason version of 'The Elevator.'
/\ Mike Goodson. It was tough to decide between the up and down for Goodson, but I think I have a pretty strong case for putting him on the up side. Goodson averaged 5.3 yards per carry on 15 attempts on Thursday night, finishing the preseason with just under 200 total yards. No other Panthers running back tallied more than 80, and although the success came with the annoyance of three fumbles (one Thursday on the goal line), it is clear the team will have a helluva rushing attack for opposing teams to deal with. Goodson also poses a threat from the slot receiver position, adding another dimension to a Panthers offense that came into the preseason pretty much ready for live bullets.
/\ Nick Hayden. Congratulations, Nick. You have worked your way out of my personal cellar, and have earned a spot near the top of the elevator. With three tackles tonight—including a hit-stick type blow delivered to Rashard Mendenhall on the Steelers' first offensive possession—and half of a sack, you may have done enough to find yourself in the starting lineup next Sunday. Keep up the improved work.
/\ Charles Johnson. Yes, he is still on this team. That might have been hard to tell for most of the preseason, but Johnson made his name known with a sack-and-a-half on Thursday night. The Panthers will need to put pressure on the quarterback with the front four this year, as the secondary looks as though they should be playing on Friday nights at this point.
/\ Dwayne Jarrett. Call off the amber alert and throw away the old milk cartons—Dwayne Jarrett has finally shown up. Jarrett caught four passes for 44 yards on Thursday night, doubling the total number of receptions he had in the first three preseason games combined. I realize that a lot of his production Thursday came against reserve defenders, but seeing him making plays period is an improvement.
/\ Kenneth Moore. The bad news for Jarrett, however, is that Kenneth Moore is looking more and more like he could be the Panthers number three starter heading into the regular season. Moore, who was plucked off of the Lions' practice squad last season, came into training camp this year to battle for the fourth receiver position with Ryne Robinson, Jason Carter, and Jason Chery. Robinson and Carter—the two most likely candidates—have already been cut. Enough said. Moore caught six balls for 59 yards on Thursday.
/\ Third down conversion rate. The Panthers were 7 of 16 on third down on Thursday night, a week after going 0 for 7 against the Ravens. A good sign from the Panthers offense.
/\ Sustaining drives on offense. The Panthers had the ball for over 35 minutes Thursday night, and at one point put together four 10-plus play drives. This is good news, but Carolina needs to finish a few more of these long drives.
\/ Special teams. Whether its the punt team getting embarrassed, or the vast array of kick/punt returners stricken with a bad case of the butter fingers, the special teams units have got to improve. They are called special for a reason.
\/ Turnovers. The Panthers committed nine turnovers this preseason. This team has to hold on to the ball, especially with all of the questions surrounding the defense. Carolina will not be able to afford any gift points to opponents.
\/ Backup quarterback play. Perhaps its just me, but I believe the Delhomme debate can be safely put to rest until we acquire another quarterback, one who has a realistic chance of touching the seasoned Cajun vet. McCown likely wrapped up the number two spot on Thursday night, but I will still be starting a collection fund for a human bubble for Jake to reside in Mondays-Saturdays.
\/ Pass defense. I'm not sure if the Steelers game planned to run three times as many running plays as passing plays, or if they just got tired of being so successful through the air and resorted to something a little more challenging. The three Steelers quarterbacks who saw the field Thursday combined for 74 yards on 8 of 10 passing.
\/ Momentum. The Panthers will limp into the season opener next Sunday, with a good portion of their fanbase standing firmly on the proverbial ledge. The first team defense forced a three-and-out on their first possession, a good way to end the preseason for a club that has been ridiculed for their lackadaisical play all preseason. However, the powers that be sent the first team 'D' back out for a second go-round, and they gave up a touchdown on a marquee display of poor tackling.
Up next for the Panthers is the season opener on Sept. 13 against the Philadelphia Eagles at Bank of America Stadium. There are no more exhibitions to be played or lessons to be harmlessly learned for this squad—it's showtime.