Hardy leads sack attack

ATLANTA – Defensive end Greg Hardy encouraged Panthers fans to travel to the Georgia Dome for the regular season finale.

And he put on a show for all those in attendance.

After his team-record four sacks and eight total quarterback hits against the Falcons, he had every right to quote the movie "Gladiator."

"It starts off just as a football game, and then it's like, 'Are you not entertained?'" Hardy said. "I've got to give you more."

Hardy finished the regular season with 15 sacks to tie the team record set by outside linebacker Kevin Greene in 1998.

"He's one of the better players at the defensive end position in our league," safety Mike Mitchell said. "He proved it today."

Hardy credited his defensive teammates for his record-setting performance.

"I felt like we were all in a zone," he said. "I felt like I had freedom. I couldn't do anything wrong, because my guys had my back. If I made a mistake, Luke (Kuechly) was there to cover me up, Thomas (Davis) was there, Mike Mitchell, Captain (Munnerlyn).

"I had some rushes where it wasn't three seconds and when I came out of them, (the quarterback) still had the ball. That's a credit to my guys."

On Sunday, Hardy spearheaded a relentless pass rush. The Panthers sacked Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan nine times – a franchise record for sacks in one game.

"It became contagious," Hardy said. "We're doing it collectively, and that feels good."

Defensive end Charles Johnson had two sacks and defensive end Frank Alexander, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and safety Mike Mitchell each had one.

"Our front really got after him and did some good things," head coach Ron Rivera said.

The sacks came at critical times of the Panthers' 21-20 victory.

On third-and-eight from the Carolina 18-yard line in the second quarter, Hardy sacked Ryan to force a field goal.

On first-and-10 from the Carolina 19-yard line in the fourth quarter, Hardy sacked Ryan for a six-yard loss. Three plays later, the Falcons settled for another field goal.

With 3:21 remaining in the game, the Falcons took over at their own 20 with all three timeouts trailing by one.

But after a 7-yard pass to running back Steven Jackson, Ryan was sacked on consecutive plays – first by Mitchell and then by Johnson – forcing a punt.

"We were getting there with four, so we weren't blitzing very much today," Mitchell said. "I had to beat Greg to the ball on that one."  

The nine-sack performance gives Carolina a team-record 60 sacks on the year – the most in the NFL.

And that pass rush is one of the main reasons the Panthers are NFC South champions.

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