The unbeaten Carolina Panthers have managed to keep their focus on the field despite Greg Hardy’s ongoing saga.
His situation should no longer be a distraction.
The Panthers have removed Hardy from the active roster ahead of Sunday night’s showdown with the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers, who are looking to bounce back from an ugly Week 2 defeat.
Carolina announced the decision Wednesday to place Hardy on the exempt-commissioner’s permission list. He was convicted July 15 of assault on a female and communicating threats after the victim claimed the 6-foot-4, 275-pound player threw her in the bathtub and onto a sofa covered with guns before threatening to kill her. Hardy is appealing the ruling and a jury trial is set for Nov. 17.
The decision to take him off the roster came two days after coach Ron Rivera said Hardy would continue to practice and attend team meetings, although his status for Sunday was still up in the air.
The All-Pro defensive end played in Week 1 but was deactivated hours before last week’s game – two days after the coach said Hardy would play.
Cam Newton sat out Carolina’s season-opening 20-14 road win over Tampa Bay due to a rib injury, before going 22 of 34 for 281 yards and a touchdown in last Sunday’s 24-7 victory over Detroit. The Panthers haven’t opened 3-0 since winning their first five games in 2003, when they went on to make their only Super Bowl appearance.
"I think we are headed in that direction," Rivera told the team’s official website. "We have a lot of guys that have been in the system for (several) seasons now. It’s starting to show. … We can be better, and we’ve still got a long ways to go."
The Panthers didn’t miss a beat without Hardy last week, forcing three turnovers for the second consecutive game. They’ve recorded seven sacks, tied for fourth most in the NFL.
Pittsburgh (1-1) is looking to clean things up following last Thursday’s 26-6 loss at Baltimore. Ben Roethlisberger was 22 of 37 for 217 yards and an interception, one of three Steelers turnovers.
"We can’t turn the ball over the way we did," Antonio Brown said after hauling in seven receptions for 90 yards. "We need to protect the ball better. When you go on the road and turn the ball over, it’s very hard to overcome. We have a good offense. We will go back to the drawing board and find ways to put points in the board."
Pittsburgh has allowed 712 yards of offense in its two games and been outscored 50-9 over its last six quarters. The Steelers were called for nine more penalties against the Ravens, giving them 20 for 171 yards on the season.
”It’s all something that needs to be addressed and quickly rectified," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We’re two games into this one. Hopefully by the time we’re able to compare this year to last or any year for that matter over a 16-, 19-game schedule or 20-game schedule if you will (that) we’ll have a better showing than we have to this point."
While the Steelers are among three teams that haven’t forced a turnover, the Panthers are one of four yet to commit one.
Carolina is averaging 3.1 yards per carry, way down from last year’s 4.2 mark. With DeAngelo Williams out due to a thigh injury, Jonathan Stewart carried the ball 15 times for 37 yards and a touchdown against the Lions.
Mike Tolbert exited the game with a bruised sternum, but Rivera said that he and Williams are expected to start after returning to practice Friday.
Le’Veon Bell has proved to be a rare bright spot for Pittsburgh with 5.3 yards per carry. His 304 yards from scrimmage rank second in the league, but finding room to run could be difficult against a Panthers team allowing 86.0 rushing yards per game.
Only three teams have surrendered more than Pittsburgh’s 340 yards on the ground.
"Guys just aren’t making the tackles we need to make," rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "A lot of times we get the guy stood up but don’t get him to the ground. There is a lot of yards after contact. We’ve just got to do the job."
The Steelers are 4-1 against the Panthers, having taken the last four matchups by an average of 21.0 points. They last met in 2010.
Carolina has won 13 of its last 14 regular-season games and eight straight at home by 16.6 points per contest.