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Panthers coach Ron Rivera

Panthers coach Ron Rivera

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he was surprised and disappointed to learn on Sunday that owner Jerry Richardson, amid allegations of workplace misconduct, planned to put the team up for sale after the 2017 season.

But Rivera made it clear that the Panthers, 10-4 and tied with New Orleans atop the NFC South, will continue to “go forward” with their playoff push and let the investigation by the NFL into Richardson’s conduct play out.

Sports Illustrated published an article on Sunday that said the organization settled financially with a least four employees regarding Richardson’s improper behavior in the workplace.

The allegations ranged from sexual harassment to Richardson using a racial slur with a former team scout.

“They’re all very serious,” Rivera said Monday of the allegations. “I do have a lot of concern about it. To be honest with you, I have not read them. I’m not dismissing them, because I’m going to wait until the investigation is done before I draw any conclusions. I think that’s the only fair thing to do. I don’t want to have anything altering my thought process.

“The investigation will take a life of its own. I believe it will be a thorough one. And remember, Mr. Richardson was the one that pushed for this to begin with.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Monday that “the league is moving forward with the investigation.”

Rivera’s focus will be on preparing for Sunday’s home game against Tampa Bay. The Panthers can clinch a playoff spot with a victory.

Rivera spoke on Monday to his players about Richardson’s decision to sell since the news broke after they departed Bank of America Stadium following Sunday’s 31-24 victory over Green Bay. He reminded them that their focus should be on football just as it has when the team has faced other off-the-field distractions in the past.

“I don’t know how much different it is from some of the things we’ve dealt with,” he said. “The thing that again we all have to understand is the serious nature of these allegations and who they affect.

“For the most part, these people need to be heard, respect what they have to say and again let the process take its course.”

Rivera said he spoke with Richardson on Sunday night just before the owner announced his decision to sell in a letter posted on the team website.

“He was terrific in terms of our conversation,” Rivera said, declining to elaborate on specifics of the conversation.

Rivera said he hoped new ownership keeps the team in Charlotte. Richardson in 2013 made a deal when the city agreed to pay for upgrades to the stadium that the team would be tethered to Charlotte through the 2018 season.

“This organization has had a tremendous impact on the Carolinas,” Rivera said. “It has helped the growth of this city and this community. It’s been a source of pride and goodwill. I’d like to see it continue.

“This is a great community, a very supportive fan base that’s been out there for us. I hope that somehow it’s able to stay here.”

As for the allegations, Rivera said he wouldn’t make a judgment until the investigation is over.

“Not to discount the serious nature of these allegations, for us, for what we do, we’re here to play football,” he said. “It’s important that we remember that. These allegations don’t change what we do. So we’ve got to go out and focus on getting ready for Tampa Bay.”

Panthers tight end Ed Dickson didn’t want to go into details about the allegations against Richardson.

“Personally, it’s sad to me, the whole thing,” he said. “We work to be better people, better individuals, better whatever you want to call it and to see that happen, it just saddened me as an individual. I got a lot of respect for our owner. He gave me an opportunity to come here and further my career and do the things I need to do as a football player, and I can only touch basis on a personal level from my standpoint of view.”

Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who grew up in Charlotte, also hopes the team doesn’t move elsewhere.

One of the top African-American head-coaching candidates in the NFL, Wilks said he had never heard Richardson use a racial slur.

“In my six years around here I never encountered anything around here of that sorts,” he said. “Never have I heard of that. I’m just going to wait and see exactly what comes through the investigation.”

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HOUSTON — The Houston Texans have put tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and wide receiver Bruce Ellington on injured reserve, the team announced Tuesday.

Fiedorowicz left Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans with a concussion, which is his third since training camp. The tight end spent eight games on injured reserve earlier this season after suffering a concussion in the Texans’ season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In five games this season, Fiedorowicz had 14 catches for 127 yards.

The Texans signed Fiedorowicz to a three-year, $21.5 million contract in August that included $10 million guaranteed.

Ellington left Sunday’s game in Tennessee with a hamstring injury. With Will Fuller missing time with a rib injury, Ellington was the Texans’ No. 2 receiver. He had 29 catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns in 2017.

The Texans also promoted tight end MyCole Pruitt and wide receiver DeAndrew White to the active roster from the practice squad.

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — If Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers shows anything, it’s that for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it may always be a mixed bag with quarterback Jameis Winston. He’ll give you some big-time plays, but also will make some amazingly poor decisions, such as the one Sunday that led to a lost fumble and a 26-20 overtime loss.

He spent three weeks on the sideline watching veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick lead the team to two wins by taking few risks. Yet Winston’s fumble in the second quarter Sunday showed that he has failed to absorb one of the most important lessons a quarterback can learn, something he continues to fail at in his third year in the NFL: knowing when a play is dead.

Under duress, Winston coughed up the ball as he was being taken down, resulting in a fumble recovery returned 62 yards by Dean Lowry for a touchdown. It was first-and-10. Winston should have taken the sack and lived to see another play. Instead, the Packers extended their lead to 17-7.

“I don’t even know how the ball came out,” Winston said. “I think when I ran back, I think I hit a guy’s butt or something. I don’t even know. I just know I was going out to the right, trying to actually throw it away, but I think when I ran back, I hit someone. … I had Cameron Brate on a route in front of me so I was about to throw it in front of him.”

Earlier in the game, on the opening drive, Winston hit Brate down the seam for a 28-yard touchdown, the first time the Bucs had scored a touchdown on an opening drive all year. For a unit that has struggled with slow starts, that was huge progress. He’d hit Brate again for a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter, another plus.

“It really did [feel like it was going to be a good day]. It really was,” Brate said. “We just kind of killed ourselves, whether it was sacks — those kind of killed our momentum, a couple calls didn’t go our way, the turnover — those killed us. … Ultimately we shot ourselves in the foot.”

Winston’s fumble, plus two Tampa Bay fumbles at the goal line, were unacceptable. You can’t pin that all on Winston when he was in the middle of changing a protection and the ball is snapped, but this team has to have more composure in high-pressure situations, Winston included.

To be fair, Winston didn’t find out until Sunday that he would be taking snaps from Evan Smith, a backup guard. Backup center Joe Hawley was to step in for starting center Ali Marpet, who landed on injured reserve this week, but Hawley came down with an illness.

“I don’t think I had my hands under Evan in about a year,” Winston admitted. “We had like two miscommunications and we just found out today that this was gonna be our offensive line. We did not think we’d be in this situation today. This was a game-time decision.”

The Bucs’ offensive line had an atrocious performance without Marpet and without starting right tackle Demar Dotson. They surrendered seven sacks — nearly a team record for the Packers — and on multiple instances, defenders were coming at Winston completely unabated.

“We didn’t protect Jameis nearly as well as we protected this year. That [was] probably our worst protection game that we played all year,” said head coach Dirk Koetter, who praised Winston for competing hard throughout the game despite it.

“We’ve talked about this many times. Jameis, he is gonna make some plays — he made a couple really nice scramble plays today, and he was under pressure all day — that particular one there, in a perfect world, he would have gotten that ball out of his hands but they were on him quick. But we’ve got to remember — he’s 23 years old and experience is still the best teacher.”

Something Winston did do well, and perhaps it’s something he absorbed from watching Fitzpatrick, was taking what the defense gave him. That meant checking down when facing pressure instead of pushing the envelope, trying to get an explosive play. That also meant utilizing Peyton Barber, who stepped in for Doug Martin and rushed for 102 yards — the first time a Bucs running back has eclipsed 100 yards in a game this season.

At 4-8 now, with the Bucs’ hopes of reaching the playoffs slim-to-none, these next four games are a chance for Winston to restore waning confidence in the offense and his ability to lead it — although he has a ways to go before he can achieve that in a season marred by injury and failed expectations.

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Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers found themselves in a strange spot on Monday in the first practice after a bye week.

But punter Michael Palardy found a potential opportunity to brush the dust off a skill not many know he possesses.

The Panthers’ two backup quarterbacks, Derek Anderson and Garrett Gilbert, were sick and contagious and had to be sent home from the team’s facilities, coach Ron Rivera said.

That left starter Cam Newton alone as the only player who could get receivers their repetitions out of the bye – or so the team thought.

Instead, Rivera called over Palardy as the team was stretching, and told him they’d probably go with him as a backup arm in a period of drills that day, during which Palardy would take nine snaps at quarterback.

Palardy all but skipped delightfully back across the field to tell his fellow specialists, who immediately began hooting with glee. Long snapper J.J. Jansen also wondered aloud what this year’s franchise tag contract looks like for a quarterback, as opposed to a punter.

“I was so pumped,” said Palardy. “I was so, so excited. … I haven’t taken live snaps since I was 15. I was relishing the moment. I was like, ‘I’m excited. I’m pumped.’

The punter attended St. Thomas Aquinas High in Florida, a noted powerhouse in high school football, where he played quarterback his freshman and sophomore years. He also kicked and punted, so if he threw a touchdown pass, he’d just stay on the field to notch the extra point.

“I was always out there for first, second, third or fourth down,” he said. “If I had to punt, I punted. If I had to kick, I kicked. And then once we scored, if I threw the touchdown or whatever it was, I’d throw the extra point. And then I’d stay out for the ensuing kickoff and kick (the ball) off.”

Palardy was ultimately beaten out at quarterback by Jake Rudock, who is on the Detroit Lions roster after playing for Iowa and Michigan, and Ryan Becker, now the assistant director of football operations at Penn.

On Monday, he was also beaten out by quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey as the go-to backup in camp.

Dorsey was the winningest quarterback in school history at the University of Miami, where he played from 1999-2002 and won a national title in 2001.

His credentials at the position do outweigh Palardy’s, but the punter still said he was “crushed” when Rivera decided to go with Dorsey instead (a reaction that caused the head coach to laugh out loud in his press conference later in the day).

“Man, I was distraught. It was like somebody ripped my heart out and stepped on it,” Palardy said.

Kicker Graham Gano reacted by ripping off his beanie and animatedly throwing it to the ground when a dejected Palardy shared the news.

Dorsey was intercepted once in practice, by safety Jairus Byrd, but Palardy joked that he would have gone 9-for-9 in the drill.

Rivera said he just wanted to preserve the health of the punter, who ranks No. 5 in the NFL in net punting, with an average of 43.3 yards per punt.

“We figured it was safer than having Palardy do it,” Rivera grinned. “We figured Kenny’s expendable, and Palardy’s a little bit more valuable. We can’t have someone running into him.”