PITTSBURGH — Panthers quarterback Cam Newton watched from the sideline in his uniform and a blue cap.
Tight end Greg Olsen stood near the offensive coaches in shorts and a T-shirt. And six starters watched the game from Charlotte. Presumably, they watched.
There wasn't much to see Thursday in the Panthers' final exhibition a 17-16 loss to Pittsburgh in front of thousands of empty yellow seats at Heinz Field.
At least until the end.
Justin Medlock, who wrested the kicking job away from Olindo Mare earlier in the week, pulled a 50-yard field goal attempt left with 32 seconds left after No. 3 quarterback Jimmy Clausen tried to rally the Panthers.
Clausen, whose roster spot is considered safe, made it interesting with a pair of second-half touchdown passes, including a 79-yarder to undrafted wideout Lamont Bryant that pulled the Panthers within 1 with 2:31 remaining.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera spared everyone overtime by going for 2. The Panthers called the same play as the touchdown: Lob it to the big guy.
The 6-foot-5 Bryant couldn't come down with it, but Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen interfered with Bryant and the Panthers had another shot. Clausen again threw toward Bryant, but Allen broke up the conversion pass.
Out of timeouts, Clausen drove the Panthers into field goal range on their final drive with two completions to tight end Joe Jon Finley. Medlock's kick had the distance, but sailed wide.
Rivera said it was fun watching the team's young players fight back from a pair of 7-point deficits in the second half.
This is a team that's got a lot of history, a lot of heritage, Rivera said of the Steelers. And I told our players, to be able to come into a city like this and play hard and play well, that means we're growing and learning.
Clausen has become a favorite punching bag for many Panthers' fans after his struggles in 2010 in the pre-Newton era. But with Newton cheering him on, Clausen completed 9 of 19 passes for 173 yards against the Steelers' second- and third-teamers.
We had a good time, Clausen said. Went out in the second half and just tried to put the offense in position to score and win the game.
The Panthers gave 23 players the night off, including their entire starting offense and most of the first-team defense. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did the same, sitting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and anyone else he didn't want hurt for the opener.
The players who were left at least had a stake in things: Many were playing for jobs on the eve of Friday's final cuts.
Clausen conceded he couldn't be sure about his roster status, but thought he helped himself with his performance Thursday.
You never know. That's why you have to come out each and every day and practice and get better because you never know what's going to happen, Clausen said. Everyone says your spot's getting looked at each and every day. I agree with that.
Panthers reserve tailbacks Tauren Poole and Armond Smith combined for 115 yards and averaged 5 yards a carry.
Smith, who was cut before training camp but later re-signed, ran 16 times for 85 yards. Poole, the former 1,000-yard rusher from Tennessee who missed two exhibitions with post-concussion symptoms, added 30 yards on 7 carries.
Backup quarterback Derek Anderson completed 8-of-18 passes for 81 yards, but could not get the Panthers in the end zone while playing the first half. On Clausen's first series, he Clausen led a 10-play, 87-yard drive capped by his 3-yard touchdown pass to Jared Green, another undrafted wideout.
The game began poorly for the Panthers.
Their first defensive snap resulted in a roughing-the-passer penalty on linebacker Jordan Senn. On their initial offensive play, backup center Mike Pollak skipped past Anderson, who picked up the ball and threw it away.
Several of the Panthers' players on the roster bubble would have a good play, only to negate it with a dropped pass or missed tackle later.
Poole started a first-quarter series with a 16-yard run off right guard and a 13-yard reception the next play. But the drive stalled when Poole let an Anderson pass slip through his hands.
But Clausen's play energized the Panthers even those on the sideline, where Newton ran and pumped his fist after Clausen's completions on the final drive.
Newton said he was glad to see the backups play well and ready to get the regular season started.
We've got a couple days, a couple things that we've got to get sharpened. But as far as the excitement, I think everybody's excited for this upcoming season, Newton said. That's how you want it to be. It's a lot of anticipation.