Even Palmer admits Hardy hit was legal

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The NFL thought Greg Hardy's first-quarter hit on then-Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer was illegal last season, fining the Carolina Panthers defensive end $25,000.

Officials at the game thought it was illegal, penalizing the Panthers 15 yards for roughing the passer.

Both were wrong.

Palmer, who suffered cracked ribs and a bruised lung that sidelined him the rest of that game and the next week's season finale, acknowledged that on Wednesday as he prepared to face Hardy and the Panthers as a member of the Arizona Cardinals.

"He hit me good,'' Palmer said. "I gave him an opportunity to get me. I don't think it should have been flagged. Those kind of hits now, just because they look pretty gruesome, get flagged.

"But it was a legal hit and my own fault for not getting rid of the football.''

Hardy wasn't available to voice his opinion on the call. He was sent home with a fever.

But fellow defensive end Charles Johnson weighed in.

"Negative,'' he said. "No. He hit him in the back, but it's in the mid-section where you're supposed to hit them at. . . . That was a bad call. That was a good hit. ''

That the league has taken major strides to protect the quarterback is understandable. But it shouldn't come at the risk of keeping big-time players such as Hardy from making big-time hits the way he's supposed to.

"I appreciate Carson feeling that way because it was a pretty big hit,'' Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "It was tough Greg got flagged for it and fined. But we are talking about player safety. As we and the league determine the best way to do it, again they're going to err on player safety.''

So was it legal or illegal?

"I'm partial to our players,'' said Rivera, a defensive minded coach.

Palmer didn't pick a good time to face Hardy again. The fourth-year player out of Ole Miss had three sacks in his last game against the New York Giants and was named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week.

The Panthers got to Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who like Palmer isn't known for his running, seven times. Asked if the Panthers looked forward to playing a non-running quarterback for the second time after facing running quarterbacks the first two weeks, Johnson said, "Yes.''

Then he smiled.

Had Hardy been there, he would have been smiling as well.

Palmer? He has to be a bit nervous considering the Cardinals traded left tackle Levin Brown to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday. Brown is expected to be replaced by Bradley Sowell, making his first career start.

Guess who will line up opposite Sowell? Yep. Hardy.

"Reminds me of Julius Peppers . . . a 260, 270, 280 pound guy, very quick, very powerful,'' Palmer said of Hardy. "I actually saw him running down and almost catching [Buffalo running back] C.J. Spiller on a long run.

"With that combination of athleticism, size and speed, it's the way Julius Peppers looked when he played at Carolina.''

Advice to Palmer. Wear extra rib protection.

"We're going to try to get after him again,'' Johnson said.