Pittsburgh Steelers struggle in loss to Carolina Panthers

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers spent their summer watching all their offseason mojo disappear underneath a steady stream of injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

Their reward? A date with a freshly vindicated Tom Brady. And if the Steelers are being honest following a listless preseason that ended with a 23-6 loss to Carolina on Thursday night, that's just fine.

Bring on Brady and the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. At least the games will count. Enough with the ones that don't.

"What better way to start the season than to play Brady?" defensive end Cameron Heyward said.

And move past a forgettable six weeks in which the Steelers dropped four of five games and saw center Maurkice Pouncey go out for at least two months with a left ankle injury and wide receiver Martavis Bryant hit with a suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

"It's been a long preseason in some instances," coach Mike Tomlin said.

One that couldn't end fast enough for Pittsburgh, which has only a week to get ready for Brady, whose four-game suspension for his role in "Deflategate" was overturned by a judge just hours before the exhibition finale.

"Congrats to Brady, see you on Thursday," Heyward said. "We're just going to prepare and get ready."

Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press**

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