- Image 1 of 2
- Image 2 of 2
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – At least for a day, the Carolina Panthers didn't need Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy.
Carolina's stout defense forced three turnovers and sacked Matthew Stafford four times in a 24-7 victory on Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
"When we found out he wasn't playing that just put another chip on our shoulder," defensive tackle Kawann Short said.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera changed his mind about Hardy's status on Sunday, declaring him inactive after a tumultuous week in the NFL. It was a dramatic change of heart for Rivera, who said on Friday that Hardy would play and allow the legal process to run its course.
But Rivera said the "culture has changed" in the NFL this week and said the right thing to do was to bench Hardy.
"At the end of the day I had to make the decision that was in the best interest of the Carolina Panthers," Rivera said. "This is a very difficult situation that the league is dealing with right now. Teams are dealing with this and we are doing the best we can. We are not infallible. We make mistakes. ... It's a very serious issue. We are trying to treat it with as much dignity as possible."
Rivera wouldn't rule out Hardy playing at a later date.
Rivera's late decision didn't give defensive coordinator Sean McDermott much time to adjust, but the Panthers didn't seem to miss a beat.
Wes Horton started in Hardy's place, but it was another reserve defensive end in Mario Addison who stepped up with 2 1/2 sacks on Stafford.
"When I get my chance I'm going to go all out," Addison said. "When opportunity calls, I need that opportunity to show coach (Rivera) that I can do it. I couldn't get tired, I played special teams too, I've got a role on this team, we all have a role on the team, everybody's role is important."
Said cornerback Melvin White: "In this defense it's the next man up."
Carolina's defense, which finished second in the league last year, has now forced six turnovers in two weeks. The Panthers have yet to turn the ball over.
Things we learned from the Panthers' 24-7 win over the Lions:
NEWTON LOOKS FINE: Panthers quarterback Cam Newton held up pretty solid for his first NFL start since fracturing his ribs. The fourth-year QB threw for 281 yards and a touchdown and ran for 19 yards in the win. He withstood five sacks and took several other big hits. "He's a warrior," tight end Greg Olsen said. "He's tough, he takes shots, but he keeps getting up. He's as tough as it gets for that position. I don't know if he gets enough credit for that. I think everyone is always talking about his athleticism and his arm and all that, but when it comes down to it he's a tough guy. He runs, he takes hits, he gets crucial plays."
OLSEN IN FOR BIG SEASON: Olsen led the Panthers in receptions last season and could do so again. He has 14 catches for 155 yards and a touchdown through two weeks of the season.
FREESE-ING THE KICKER: Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he hasn't decided whether he'll replace kicker Nate Freese after the rookie missed two 49-yard field goals. "We certainly don't want to make any rash decisions or judgments right after ballgames are over with," Caldwell said. "We like to look at all of the parameters, but one of the things that we have now as our goal is to make 100 percent of our kicks. Every once in a while, there's a long kick and it's an extenuating circumstance but I think that's an area we need to be able to count on."
MORE SECONDARY ISSUES: The Lions injury problems in the secondary only got worse when rookie cornerback Nevin Lawson dislocated his foot. He was taken in for surgery. The Lions are expected to make a roster move this week.
CASON STEPPING UP: The Panthers took a chance on Antoine Cason, a forgotten man last season with the Arizona Cardinals, and it has paid off. Cason had 10 tackles, two forced fumbles and recovery in Carolina's win. He now has 18 tackles in the past two weeks.
Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL