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Fourth exhibition one too many

There was a blue moon Thursday night.

The once-in-a-blue- moon kind.

It won’t happen again for three years, and perhaps by then the NFL will have done us all a favor and drop-kicked the dreaded fourth exhibition.

We can live without our appendix. Surely we can live without four exhibitions.

If the starters don’t need them – the Panthers didn’t play a single offensive starter and only a couple on defense – then it’s not necessary to go to all that trouble for coaches to decide who the 52nd and 53rd players will be when they make the final roster cuts Friday. Yes, it’s also about money, but what isn’t?

For the record, the Panthers were beaten 17-16 by the Steelers at Heinz Field when Carolina’s anything-to-avoid- overtime, two-point conversion attempt failed twice with just over two minutes remaining, and new kicker Justin Medlock missed from 50 yards with 32 seconds remaining.

It was not a game from which to draw many conclusions other than Pittsburgh, the city, looked nice on a warm, late-summer evening. Too early for snow. Too early for ice. Too late in the preseason for Ben Roethlisberger in the game.

Who looked good for the Panthers?

Cam Newton looked nice standing on the sideline. So did DeAngelo Williams and Brandon LaFell.

Running back Tauren Poole flashed, as coaches like to say. He also dropped a wide-open pass.

Another running back, Armond Smith, had nice numbers.

Jimmy Clausen threw two touchdown passes. That’s special.

Reserves along both lines – the guys coaches watch on tape – were impressive, coach Ron Rivera said.

Mercifully, it’s time to get on to the real season without the real officials, whose dispute with the NFL is under further review.

Sometime Friday afternoon, the Panthers will take a Sharpie and mark out names on their roster until only 53 remain. It’s easy to figure out who most of them are.

The emotional question is whether Armanti Edwards makes the team. I hope so.

That doesn’t necessarily put me in the majority. Edwards, one of the most dynamic college players I’ve ever seen, has yet to sparkle as a Panther. Perhaps that’s being kind.

Against the Steelers’ second- and third-teamers Thursday night, Edwards didn’t sparkle either. He was targeted six times and caught two for 32 yards. That’s better than Seyi Ajirotutu, who dropped the only pass thrown his way.

It was a game largely without sparkle unless your name was Lamont Bryant, a previously unnoticed wide receiver who caught a 79-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Clausen.

In practice, Edwards has his moments. Not a lot of moments, but some. Has he had enough? We’ll know Friday.

Edwards plans to spend the day relaxing with his family. “If I get a phone call (saying he has been cut), I get one. If I don’t, great,” Edwards said.

With or without Edwards, this is a good moment for the Panthers. Two years ago was awful. Last year was new. This year could be a breakthrough.

They have a new star in linebacker Luke Kuechly. They have a mega-star in Newton. They have injured stars back.

They have our attention for all the right reasons.

Maybe they’re a year away. But that’s closer than they’ve been in a long time.

Time to find out just how close they are.

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