Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy said Wednesday the struggling Panthers are a "better team" than Atlanta.
Yes, better than the Falcons, who have clinched the NFC South Division title and have the NFC's best record at 11-1. The Panthers, meanwhile, are coming off a loss to Kansas City, which had won only one game this season before Sunday.
When asked if he meant the Panthers were the better team on Sept. 30 when they lost 30-28 at Atlanta or better overall, Hardy replied, "Both."
Hardy said this Sunday's rematch is about "payback" and "punishment."
"We owe them something and it is coming," Hardy said. "I'm trying to mess with their whole playoff experience. I want them to go home sick in the stomach and mad about life, a couple of depression issues, all types of things. It's going to be a long day from my point of view. I'm coming."
Hardy, now a full-time starter in his third season with the Panthers, said he's not a big fan of the team's Interstate-85 rivals, calling the Falcons "a little cocky."
"I feel like they're not respectful," Hardy said.
Hardy is among several Carolina defensive players who felt disrespected by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan after television cameras caught him cursing as he shouted get off our field toward the Panthers sidelines in the final seconds of Atlanta's Week 4 win at the Georgia Dome.
Ryan's emotions were running high after the Falcons completed an improbable comeback against the Panthers. The Falcons were backed up on their own 1-yard with less than a minute to play and no timeouts in the last meeting.
An emotional Ryan left the field slapping high-fives and shouting as he made his way to the locker room.
"He said some harsh words man, so it's going to be a fight out there," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "He totally disrespected us. They won the game. They came all of the way back to beat us. But to say what he said, I don't think there was cause for it."
Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson, who had 3½ of Carolina's seven sacks against the Falcons in Week 4 said the Panthers saw the video tape of Ryan on the team bus after the game.
He said it's bothered him ever since.
Johnson said the Panthers have had this game marked on their calendar.
"Now he has to come into our house," Johnson said.
The Panthers, though, haven't been very good in their own house; they've lost five straight at home.
The Falcons had closed their media availability for the day prior to Hardy's comments and were unavailable for respond.
At one point Wednesday Hardy admitted the Falcons were a good team, but then returned to his rant.
"They have receivers that can catch, but they can be stopped. They have linemen that can block, but they can be beaten. They have a quarterback who is going to be on the ground because that's where he belongs," Hardy said. "That's going to happen."
Hardy also advised Ryan to get rid of the ball early and often on Sunday.
"He likes to hold the ball and that's something he should do when you're coming to play the Carolina Panthers because it's going to have repercussions," said Hardy, who has a career-high eight sacks on one forced fumble this season.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera coach said he hasn't seen the tape of Ryan's outburst from after the game and isn't sure if he'll be showing it to his players this week as motivation.
"Truthfully, if you want to do something about it (then) do it on the field," Rivera said. "That's the way I look at it. Let's not talk about it, let's let our actions speak for us on the field."
Quarterback Cam Newton is also anxious to gain a measure of respect on the Falcons as well, but for a completely different reason.
His late-game third-down run against his hometown team would have sealed Carolina's win had he not fumbled and the ball bounced back backward behind the first down marker.
Although Carolina recovered, the Panthers had to punt and the Falcons went on to score the go-ahead field goal.
"To back (Hardy) and defend him, there are a lot of things that haven't been true about our season so far," Newton said. "We are a way better team than what our record is."