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Carolina Panthers 25, Pittsburgh Steelers 10

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Carolina Panthers’ Ted Ginn Jr. shines again in preseason finale against Pittsburgh Steelers

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Most of the Carolina Panthers’ starters and fans took the night off Thursday, but Ted Ginn Jr. showed up – and for the second week in a row showed off his speed.

The free agent pick-up caught a pair of touchdown passes in the first half of the Panthers’ 25-10 win against Pittsburgh before a Bank of America Stadium crowd that included a big chunk of Terrible Towel-waving Steelers fans.

The Panthers finished the preseason with a 3-1 mark; Pittsburgh was 0-4.

Ginn scored on catches of 35 and 87 yards a week after ripping off a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown in a preseason victory at Baltimore.

The former first-round pick was signed in March to ignite the Panthers’ return teams, but he might be playing his way into a bigger role in the receiving rotation.

With wideouts Armanti Edwards and David Gettis held out with hamstring injuries, Ginn pulled down five passes for 149 yards. Ginn, who signed a 1-year deal after going to the Super Bowl with San Francisco last season, was not used as a returner.

“You’ve got have gears, you know, like a Ferrari,” Ginn said. “You can’t always run everything at top speed, you can’t always run everything at minimum speed. You’ve got to know how to put the gears in and shift and get on down the road.”

Ginn’s first score came on the Panthers’ opening drive, against a Steelers defense that sat nine of its starters. On his second touchdown, Ginn blew past a pair of Steelers defensive backs and No. 2 quarterback Derek Anderson hit him in stride.

“I came out and saw the safety take a bad angle right away, and Ted’s so fast that I just gave him a chance,” Anderson said. “I don’t think you can actually overthrow him.”

Despite the struggles of the first-team offense – (one touchdown in 14 preseason possessions – ), Panthers coach Ron Rivera chose not to play quarterback Cam Newton and most of the starters. He indicated this week he preferred protecting their health rather than trying to generate offensive momentum in a meaningless game.

Only seven Panthers’ starters played, five of whom were in for a single series – defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, receiver Brandon LaFell and left guard Travelle Wharton, who signed a 1-year deal this week to return to Carolina.

Newton stood on the sideline in neon-yellow cleats, flanked by a number of regulars wearing backward caps.

Meanwhile, Anderson made do behind a patchwork offensive line, completing his first five passes.

Anderson, Newton’s backup the past two seasons, was 10-of-15 for 220 yards before giving way to third-stringer Jimmy Clausen late in the first half.

“I just tried to get in a good rhythm, get some momentum, get a lot of plays, and I thought we did a good job,” Anderson said. “We got completions and we got big plays.”

Ginn took care of the big plays, and Domenik Hixon pitched in on the completions.

Hixon was considered the frontrunner to win the No. 3 receiver spot when he came to Carolina during the offseason from New York, where he won two Super Bowl rings with the Giants. But a hamstring injury sidelined Hixon for the first three exhibitions.

Hixon had three first-half receptions for 44 yards. He celebrated his longest catch – a 23-yarder – with a semi-ball spin along the Panthers’ sideline.

Hixon said he felt a little rusty after just a week of practice, but was pleased to contribute to a receiving corps looking for depth behind Steve Smith and LaFell.

“You hear commentators say, ‘They only have one receiver,’” Hixon said, referring to Smith. “That’s fine and people can think that. But we’re just going to go out every night and try to do our best.”

“I almost like it when people doubt you and don’t have a good opinion about it,” Hixon added. “We’ll fly under the radar and that’s fine.”

Neither of the reserve running backs did much to distinguish himself. With DeAngelo Williams resting and Jonathan Stewart injured, Tauren Poole (10 carries for 32 yards) and Armond Smith (17 carries for 43 yards) combined to average less than 3 yards a carry.

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