PITTSBURGH – The Panthers closed out the preseason Thursday night with a 10-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, marking the first preseason shutout for the team since 2003.
After a handful of first-teamers started the game and played a series or two, the game was turned over to the reserves, who limited the Steelers to just 185 total yards and did their best to impress with final roster cuts looming.
"It was nice for those guys to get an opportunity to finish out and finish strong," head coach Ron Rivera said. "They did some really good things, and it is going to be really nice to watch this tape."
Said rookie defensive end Kony Ealy, who had two of Carolina's six sacks: "It feels really good knowing that we did our job and dominated as a unit."
The first half featured little scoring as a result of defensive dominance on third downs – the Panther were 1-of-6, the Steelers were 0-for-5.
But Carolina's only third-down conversion of the half and one fourth-down conversion helped lead to the game's first points. On the opening series, fullback Mike Tolbert picked up a hard-earned two yards up the middle on fourth-and-1.
Later, quarterback Derek Anderson, who arrived in Pittsburgh after his first child was born to start in place of injured quarterback Cam Newton, tossed a screen pass to wide receiver Jason Avant, who eluded defenders en route to a 13-yard gain on third-and-10.
Anderson's fade pass into the end zone for wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin fell incomplete on third-and-goal, forcing Carolina to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Graham Gano.
The Panthers appeared poised to add to their lead in the second quarter after Anderson completed a 17-yard pass to tight end Ed Dickson and passes of 18 and 11 yards to Benjamin.
The promising drive ended in Steelers' territory when Anderson couldn't grasp a high shotgun snap from center Brian Folkerts, and Pittsburgh linebacker Jarvis Jones made the recovery. Anderson, who kept Jones from advancing the ball, bruised his right hand on the play and did not return to the game, although X-rays were negative.
Joe Webb, Carolina's only remaining healthy quarterback, took over under center for the rest of the night and engineered the game's only touchdown drive in the third quarter.
"We handled it pretty well and we came out with the victory," Webb said of the quarterback shortage.
Added Rivera: "The quarterback play today was pretty darn good."
Webb found wide receiver Philly Brown wide open down the sideline for a 53-yard gain, and running back Fozzy Whittaker plunged into the end zone from two yards out on the next play.
Whittaker, who was shaken up late in the first half, finished with 23 carries, nine of which came in the fourth quarter, as Carolina ground out the win. Whittaker's impressive preseason ended with a game-high 91 yards.
"Whenever my number is called, I want it to be known that I am giving 100 percent," Whittaker said, "and you'll see that in my play."
After the game, Rivera commended Whittaker's hard running as he spoke to the team.
"He showed some toughness," Rivera said. "He got bumped a little bit and stuck it out and finished up. He did a heck of a job. What he did for us in terms of making the tough runs, making the tough plays. He's done a great job for us."