CHARLOTTE – As a 10-year veteran who keeps making his way onto NFL rosters by doing the little things, Panthers tight end
Sunday against St. Louis, Hartsock put his preparation into action in a noticeable way, gesturing that it was time for Chris Long to go after the Rams defensive end was ejected at the end of prolonged skirmish between the teams.
"I was just signaling to everybody, 'He's outta here,' " Hartsock said. "I was just stirring the pot a little bit. There's a game within the game, and I was trying to get guys to lose their composure because they're known to be a team that can get a little hot under the collar."
Beginning with that moment, the Rams unraveled while the Panthers proved unflappable. And with that, any chance St. Louis had of mounting a rally dissipated.
"I had so much fun during the game because when you feel like you can beat a guy up mentally, there's not much that's more satisfying in this world – aside maybe from putting a guy on his back," Hartsock said following the Panthers' 30-15 victory. "Mentally dominating a guy is pretty fun."
Starting with the skirmish that led to Long's ejection, the teams traded pushes and shoves a countless number of times throughout the remainder of the game. But cooler heads – the ones wearing silver helmets – prevailed as St. Louis was flagged for three more personal fouls before the game was done.
The Panthers fought all right, but they fought for each other.
"We're brothers," safety
"When we got into it, we were just pulling each other away, keeping each other composed. We were saying, 'We're putting a beating on them. Let's just be smart. Let's not lose any guys for next week and just get through this game.' "
Emotions really began to boil out of halftime when the Panthers, already leading 17-5, mounted a drive. Shortly after they crossed into Rams territory, St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn penetrated the backfield on a zone-read run play and popped quarterback
Newton reentered the fray (a good word for it as it turns out) two snaps later. When Quinn and Panthers left tackle
"My job is to protect the quarterback, and I felt like he took a shot at him," Gross said. "It was legal, but I just didn't think that it was the right thing to do."
A wide-scale scrap broke out, and in the mass of humanity, Long threw a punch at right guard
"He just lost his mind for a minute," Hartsock. "He threw an absolute haymaker. You don't see that very often. That was pretty epic."
Said Long: "Having to watch the game in the locker room was probably the low point in my career. I can't let it happen again."
But it happened again and again to his teammates the rest of the way. Carolina fullback
While St. Louis was flagged for three more personal fouls before the day was done, Carolina channeled the aggressiveness the right way.
On this day, it was the winning way.
"Emotions came out, but the thing was who was going to keep their composure," right tackle