The Panthers won their final exhibition, 10-0, at Pittsburgh Thursday night and finished the exhibition season 2-2. Stars like Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Charles Johnson, Thomas Davis and Ryan Kalil didn't play at all for Carolina, but there were a few standout performances in this very low-profile game. This one at least gave the Panthers a chance to get that beatdown New England put on them the week before out of their systems. Here are 4 things I liked in a game I watched from home:
1) The defense. It was mostly reserves against reserves, and Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn't play at all. But pitching a shutout is hard at any level, and the Panthers did so by playing good defense everywhere. The defensive line, in particular, was very good as Carolina racked up six sacks and allowed only 185 total yards.
2) Joe Webb and Fozzy Whittaker. The Panthers' third-team quarterback and fourth-team running back got loads of work because of injuries and planned sitdowns. Both solidified their spots on the final 53-man roster. Whittaker ran hard, gained 91 yards and scored the game's only TD. Webb made a gorgeous, 53-yard deep throw to Philly Brown to set that TD up and showed some elusiveness. If Webb had to play in a game this year, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world -- and Whittaker is definitely going to play at some point.
3) Dodging the big injury. The Panthers have had some nicks during the exhibitions, no doubt about that. It is impossible for that not to happen. But they never got the huge injury in four exhibitions. Derek Anderson's throwing hand got hurt Thursday, but it could have been worse (X-rays were negative, but he did have his hand wrapped up in the second half).
I think Cam Newton will play through his fractured ribs in the regular-season opener Sept.7. Safety Roman Harper got his first exhibition work Thursday after sitting out much of August with turf toe. Kuechly could have played Thursday if he needed to. So the Panthers will go into September healthier than a lot of teams will.
4. The fake games are over. The NFL's exhibition season isn't endless, it only seems that way. Finally, we can dismiss these games entirely. Carolina plays Pittsburgh for real Sept.21, and before that come games against Tampa Bay and Detroit. Time for some real football.