Carolina Panthers give Dwayne Haskins, Steelers backups a lesson in 'tough' preseason finale

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn't mince words in the aftermath of his team's 34-9 loss to the host Carolina Panthers in the preseason finale Friday night.

The Steelers, albeit starting mostly backups against the Panthers' starters, didn't play at the level he expected -- and it more than applied to quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who made his first start in the preseason.

"Like the rest of us, I didn't think it was enough varsity work from him," Tomlin said. "It wasn't the type of performance he wanted or we wanted. But such is life."

Going against a first-string defense for the first time in the preseason with a roster spot on the line, Haskins completed 9-of-16 attempts for 108 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

But even those numbers are misleading. Haskins, selected in the first round of the 2019 draft by the Washington Football Team, finished the first half completing just 3-of-9 attempts for 24 yards and an interception. His passer rating in the first half was a lowly 2.8.

"It was a tough one," Haskins said. "I wanted to play better. I know we wanted to do better as a team. Just have to watch some film, prepare and get ready."

Haskins led the team to two three-and-outs to start, completing his first two passes on third downs, but both throws were well short of the sticks. The next drive ended prematurely as Haskins threw behind fullback Derek Watt. The ball glanced off Watt's hands and into the waiting arms of Panthers defensive end Brian Burns.

Haskins rebounded with more aggressive throws in his final drives of the half, pushing the ball down the field more rather than checking it down. But twice Ray-Ray McCloud couldn't complete the catch on a well-thrown ball. Haskins threw one into tight coverage, but the pass hit McCloud on the shoulder pad and he couldn't make the grab. On the next drive, Haskins led McCloud down the sideline and placed the ball perfectly in front of him. McCloud, though, couldn't keep both feet in bounds to complete the catch.

Haskins led one drive to start the third quarter, but it, too, was a three-and-out, and Josh Dobbs took over for the next four drives until he sustained a turf toe injury on a sack in the fourth quarter.

The injury gave Haskins an opportunity to redeem himself. The first drive was cut short as running back Tony Brooks-James fumbled the ball on the second play, but Haskins led a scoring drive on the Steelers' final series. Facing a third-and-5 at the two-minute warning, Haskins hit McCloud for a 28-yard gain over the middle. On the next two plays, he connected with Anthony Johnson for a 12-yard gain and tight end Marcus Baugh for 8 yards. He capped the drive with one more completion to McCloud for the 22-yard score.

"I felt having the two-minute opportunity was good just to get some in-game experience with that and of course, I wanted to start fast but we didn't," Haskins said. "Being able to finish in a way where we got some type of a rally after was a good way to finish the game."

Still, Haskins' late scoring drive hardly enthralled Tomlin.

"I'm sure it did for him, in terms of getting that taste out of his mouth," Tomlin said of Haskins. "Obviously, it had no consequence or bearing on the outcome of the game."

With final cuts looming, the decision in the quarterback room appears to come down to Dobbs or Haskins for the final spot. Outside of Friday night's performance, Haskins said he felt good about the work he put in during the Steelers' preseason.

"I feel like I've done a great job just showing that I'm coachable," Haskins said. "Showing that I'm wanting to learn, wanting to get better. Just trying to put things on film that are something that I can showcase what I can do. The first three games are something I'm rather proud of and of course how we started is something I wanted better of.

"Best thing I can do is just hope that what I've done throughout preseason, throughout training camp is enough body of work to showcase and show how much I've improved."