PITTSBURGH There was a blue moon Thursday night.
The once-in-a-blue- moon kind.
It wont 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 dont need them the Panthers didnt play a single offensive starter and only a couple on defense then its 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, its also about money, but what isnt?
For the record, the Panthers were beaten 17-16 by the Steelers at Heinz Field when Carolinas 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. Thats special.
Reserves along both lines the guys coaches watch on tape were impressive, coach Ron Rivera said.
Mercifully, its 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. Its easy to figure out who most of them are.
The emotional question is whether Armanti Edwards makes the team. I hope so.
That doesnt necessarily put me in the majority. Edwards, one of the most dynamic college players Ive ever seen, has yet to sparkle as a Panther. Perhaps thats being kind.
Against the Steelers second- and third-teamers Thursday night, Edwards didnt sparkle either. He was targeted six times and caught two for 32 yards. Thats 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? Well 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 dont, 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 theyre a year away. But thats closer than theyve been in a long time.
Time to find out just how close they are.