FS derby down to the wire

Only one starting job was at stake Thursday night and neither Ryan Clark nor Tyrone Carter made a move to become the Steelers' starting free safety. Carter, though, did make his presence felt. In fact, he may have cost his team the game.

PITTSBURGH – Tyrone Carter was called upon to do the unusual. And then he did the absurd.

Carter's roughing-the-passer penalty, on a fourth-and-14 incompletion with 41 seconds remaining, gave the Carolina Panthers life. They resumed their final drive and won the game at the gun.

What did Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Bill Cowher say to Carter?

"He was pissed," said Carter. "That was a crucial play. It was tough."

Carter was earlier called upon to fill in at cornerback after Chidi Iwuoma was kicked in the head and suffered a mild concussion.

A contender for the open free safety job, Carter played cornerback in an emergency – for the first time since 2003 -- and held his own. On one play he was beat for a 40-yard reception, but Carter lined up as a safety at the time.

Will he line up as a safety on opening day?

"It's up to the coaches," he said.

Does he have a hunch?

"No, not really because they don't talk too much."

Carter's main competition for the job, free-agent acquisition Ryan Clark, said much of the same.

"It's the Kentucky Derby. You never know," said Clark. "But I guess we find out this week." Clark started the game – along with strong safety Mike Logan and the second-team defense – but Cowher told reporters not to read anything into it.

"Those safeties were going to play," Cowher said. "We haven't really made a decision."

Has Clark received any clues at all?

"Not really," he said. "I'm just playing, man. It's a race. They made it a true competition. They kept it fair, so I respect that about him."

How does Clark handicap the race?

"Anthony [Smith] played well so he got in the competition. I think all three of us have an opportunity to start. Regardless, all of us are going to play. It was a real tight competition. T.C. knew the system so he kind of had a jump on it and he played well. Anthony's athletic ability allowed him to do well. I think I played well, especially with making the calls.

"Tonight was really the night I needed, not having Troy [Polamalu] and not having James [Farrior] out there, basically having to run the defense myself. I needed that. With Troy and James out there, I don't have to say anything other than to communicate my side, so it was real good."

For the night, Clark made three tackles, Carter made two and broke up a pass, and Smith, the rookie, made five tackles and broke up a pass.

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