CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Panthers coach Ron Rivera had a change of heart Sunday, benching defensive end Greg Hardy before the team's 24-7 win against the Detroit Lions.
Rivera defended his late decision to make Hardy inactive by saying the ''climate has changed'' in the NFL and the team ''has to get this right.''
Rivera said he wouldn't rule out Hardy playing this season but refused to put a timetable on that decision.
''We have to go through a very difficult process and he has to go through one, as do other people as well,'' Rivera said. ''This is a very serious situation and set of circumstances. We are going to work things out and hopefully we get it right.''
Carolina listed Hardy as inactive just two days after Rivera said Friday the fifth-year pro would play.
Hardy was convicted July 15 of assault on a female and communicating threats. He is appealing the ruling. He was active against Tampa Bay in Week 1.
Wes Horton started in Hardy's spot. Mario Addison, another Carolina backup defensive end, had 2 1/2 sacks.
Carolina's sitting of Hardy comes after a week of awful publicity for the league. Baltimore's Ray Rice was cut and suspended indefinitely for punching his fiancee, and Minnesota deactivated Adrian Peterson after he was charged with beating his 4-year-old son with a tree branch.
Panthers cornerback Antoine Cason said he learned Hardy would not play just before the start of the game.
''It is tough because being in this locker room and being a teammate, we say we're a band of brothers,'' Cason said. ''Who knows what he is going through? I can't imagine the type of feelings he is going through. So for me it's just support him and let him know that I'm your teammate and I'm here for you.''
Cason wouldn't say if he thinks the right call was made.
Panthers players said they leave such decisions to Rivera.
''I mean, it's his call,'' safety Roman Harper said. ''I play football. I don't worry about those decisions. I go out there and we win ball games as a team. We understand that Greg is a part of this team. He had something to do with this `W.' ... The only thing we control is what we do on Sundays and in this sport. Everything else will work itself out.''
Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said the team's mindset didn't change after they learned Hardy wouldn't play.
''It was go out there and play hard and get after the quarterback, stop them on first down and we were able to do that,'' Kuechly said.
The Panthers held the Lions to one touchdown after they put up 35 points against the Giants on Monday night.
Hardy was found guilty in a bench trial, but under criminal procedure in North Carolina, lawyers can appeal that ruling.
Earlier this week, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson broke down in tears when talking about domestic violence.
''I stand firmly against domestic violence, plain and simple,'' Richardson said Wednesday night. ''To those who would suggest that we've been too slow to act, I ask that you consider not to be too quick to judge.''
Hardy was unavailable for interviews after the game. He was not on the sideline during the game.
Behind Hardy, the Panthers led the NFL in sacks last season with 60. Hardy, now in his fifth season, had 15 sacks in 2013 and has 26 sacks in last 32 games. He played in the season opener against Tampa Bay and had four tackles a sack in a 20-14 win.
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