The Pittsburgh Steelers ended the preseason on a winning note.
Third-string quarterback Josh Dobbs scrambled 1 yard for a touchdown with two seconds left to give the Steelers a 17-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night in Charlotte. Dobbs’ run capped a five-play, 53-yard drive that took just 47 seconds.
The Steelers finished the preseason 3-1 and now get ready to begin defense of their AFC North title on Sept. 10, when they play the Browns in Cleveland in the regular-season opener.
Here are the things we learned from Thursday’s game:
Hunter up, Hamilton down
The Steelers have a deep corps of wide receivers and won’t be able to keep everyone. With that in mind, Justin Hunter made a strong case for making the 53-man roster following Saturday’s roster cutdown, while Cobi Hamilton hurt his chances.
Hunter, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason, lived up to his reputation for making big plays when he caught a 58-yard touchdown pass from Dobbs in the second quarter. The fifth-year veteran has just 78 career receptions, but 12 have gone for scores. He has averaged 16.7 yards a catch.
Hunter had three receptions for 75 yards on Thursday and finished the preseason with six catches for 92 yards.
Hamilton, meanwhile, lost a late-game fumble following a 31-yard gain on a pass from Dobbs with 1 minute, 29 seconds left and the Steelers trailing 14-10. The Panthers recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
The Steelers’ defense took Hamilton off the hook, though, when it held the Panthers on downs, forcing them to punt and giving Dobbs just enough time to lead the winning TD drive.
Hamilton also fumbled in the second half of last season’s AFC Championship Game loss as the Steelers unsuccessfully rallied against the New England Patriots.
Dobbs looks his sharpest
Dobbs, the Steelers’ fourth-round draft pick from Tennessee, had his best performance yet as he completed 16 of 23 passes for 212 yards and the touchdown to Hunter. Dobbs’ passer rating was 113.
Dobbs isn’t likely to be a factor this season as he sits behind Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones on the depth chart. However, he could wind up competing with Jones next summer for the starting job if Roethlisberger decides to retire, as he has been hinting.
One drawback is that Dobbs threw another interception, and he finished the preseason with four picks in 64 passes.
Hilton cements status
Despite the signing of two-time All-Pro cornerback Joe Haden on Wednesday night as a free agent, first-year cornerback Mike Hilton seems almost certain to make the team. He had another big game on Thursday with four tackles and a sack.
Hilton finished the preseason with 14 tackles and two sacks, an eye-opening performance from a player who was signed to the practice squad last December and has yet to play in a regular-season NFL game.
Hilton’s play, and the addition of Haden, could mean the end of the line for cornerback William Gay, an 11-year veteran whose play slipped late last season.
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