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Panthers’ Ron Rivera says he can’t recall another 9-sack game

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera has been in the NFL for 24 years, including 17 as a coach, and in that time he can’t recall ever being part of a nine-sack game before Sunday.

The nine sacks against the Atlanta Falcons blasted the team record of seven and gave the Panthers an NFL-high 60 for the season, tying a franchise record.

Leading the way was defensive end Greg Hardy with four. Hardy tied a team record with 15 sacks this season, matching Kevin Greene’s 1998 total.

“I was very happy for Greg,” Rivera said. “You know what’s interesting? He’s been practicing that way the last few weeks. You ask his teammates about how well he’s been practicing. It’s almost scary because he’s flying around like that on Fridays as well.”

Of the nine sacks, only three came on a blitz, something defense coordinator Sean McDermott said is a credit to the front four.

“There’s penetration inside. There’s people coming off the edge, whether it’s Greg or Charles or Wes or Mario. Frank Alexander had a nice game,” McDermott said. “You spread it around and they’re tough to block when they’re coming off the ball as fast as they were yesterday. The coverage comes into play also. So you can’t ignore that.”

Here’s a look at all nine sacks and how they came about against the Falcons.

1st quarter

9:30 left: Rookie defensive tackle Kawann Short gets pressure up the middle and forces Matt Ryan to sidestep, then step up in the pocket. Alexander, playing at left defensive end, gets around Ryan Schraeder and hits Ryan.

7:40 left: At right defensive end, Hardy beats tight end Tony Gonzalez easily by going outside and getting to Ryan.

1:30 left: Rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei beats guard Justin Blalock and sacks Ryan with help from undrafted rookie Wes Horton, who went low on Ryan.

2nd quarter

10:26 left: The first sack with a blitz comes when cornerback Drayton Florence is the fifth rusher. Hardy, at right defensive end opposite Florence’s blitz, got past tackle Lamar Holmes on the outside to get to Ryan.

3rd quarter

4:20 left: Left defensive end Charles Johnson bull rushes Schraeder to get to Ryan easily.

3:07 left: Maybe the most impressive sack of the day comes when Hardy gets by Gonzalez, who had help in pass protection from running back Steven Jackson. Hardy pushes by Jackson as Gonzalez falls to the ground, then wraps up Ryan.

4th quarter

8:41 left: Hardy moves inside to defensive tackle. He beats center Peter Konz on the outside while strongside linebacker Thomas Davis became the fifth pass rusher on a blitz.

2:54 left: Free safety Mike Mitchell disguises his blitz so well that Jackson doesn’t pick it up. Mitchell shoots through a hole on the right side of the Falcons’ line while Jackson is already in his swing route pattern, leaving Ryan helpless as Mitchell comes in untouched.

2:28 left: Two plays later, Johnson again bull rushes Schraeder to get to Ryan for his second sack of the day and the team’s ninth.

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