CHARLOTTE - The Carolina Panthers closed out their preseason Thursday night with a 17-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Bank of America Stadium.
"I expected to win," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Every time we get on the football field, I expect us to win a football game. But we got what we were looking for, I believe."
With the 90-to-53-man roster cut looming Saturday, running back Cameron Artis-Payne, wide receiver Kaelin Clay and tight end Chris Manhertz made the most of their final audition. Artis-Payne led the way on the ground with 51 yards - including an impressive 35-yard jaunt - while Clay caught three balls for 76 yards and Manhertz had five receptions for 42 yards.
"What batter game to do it than tonight?" Manhertz said. "I think today is the most snaps I got all preseason. Now is the time to leave it in the coaches' hands and control what you can."
While Clay was out of football last season, Manhertz and Artis-Payne were on the Panthers' roster but aren't guaranteed spots this season. Artis-Payne, however, was impressive throughout the preseason, and Manhertz had his moments in his bid to be the third tight end.
Roster hopefuls got plenty of chances Thursday as none of the Panthers' starters saw action - as is often the case in the final preseason game.
"There's a lot of good football players (here), and we're probably going to cut a couple of good football players," Rivera said. Linebacker David Mayo's first-quarter interception set up the Panthers for the game's first points. Cornerback Teddy Williams altered a pass intended for Hunter over the middle before Mayo returned the interception for 27 yards. Running back Fozzy Whittaker rushed for 9 yards on the first play and later capped off the seven-play, 30-yard drive with a 4-yard score.
"I went to Teddy (Williams) and said thank you after that," Mayo said on the interception. "The ball just got tipped. I didn't really have to move. It was just a gimme, so I was really thankful for that."
Pittsburgh answered at the start of the second quarter. Joshua Dobbs entered at quarterback and drove the Steelers into the red zone, setting up Chris Boswell for a 35-yard field goal. After Carolina suffered a three-and-out, Dobbs capitalized once more. The Steelers' fourth-round pick connected with Hunter for a 58-yard score, giving Pittsburgh a 10-7 edge.
Carolina's passing game came alive late in the second quarter. With Joe Webb at quarterback, the Panthers drove 61 yards for a touchdown, the longest scoring drive of the game. Artis-Payne zipped around the outside for a 15-yard pickup, but his run was nullified by an offensive holding call. The penalty pushed the Panthers back to their own end, setting up an opportunity for Clay to showcase his speed. The Utah product torched the Steelers defense for a 47-yard pickup. The catch set up the Panthers' go-ahead touchdown, which Webb tossed to wide receiver Damiere Byrd - another player vying for a roster spot.
The Panthers' offense went quiet in the second half while the defense attempted to close out the game. Dobbs ultimately halted Carolina's hopes and executed the two-minute drill to perfection, driving the offense to the game-winning score. Dobbs found wide receiver Marcus Tucker gains of 15 34 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run. Carolina flushed the quarterback out to the right, but Dobbs snuck inside the pylon with two seconds remaining.
"I think we played well the majority of the game," Byrd said. "We were able to score points. You'd love to score more than 14 points, but I think everybody that was out there really gelled together and took advantage of the opportunities that we had."