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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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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.”

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton abruptly walked out of his Wednesday news conference after a question about the offense’s ability to consistently get yardage in “big chunks.”

Newton paused when asked the question, rolled his eyes and answered with “next question.” He then exited. He was approximately a step away from the podium as another reporter attempted to ask a question.

“Cam didn’t intend to be discourteous toward any specific media member,” Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said in a statement. “In his mind, after answering questions for nine minutes he had fulfilled his obligations.”

Newton’s exit came a week after he did not fulfill his weekly media obligations and speak on Wednesday or Thursday. And it came two weeks after he publicly apologized for making light of a football question from a female reporter, Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer. Rodrigue took two weeks off after the incident and returned last week.

Newton met his media obligations during the time prior to that.

Wednesday wasn’t the first time Newton cut short a news conference. His most publicized early exit followed a 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50, when he walked out on reporters after answering only a handful of questions, mostly with short responses. He later admitted to being a “sore loser.”

The Panthers (4-3) have struggled with completing passes of more than 20 yards this season, particularly the past two weeks in losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears. Newton was 1-for-6 with an interception on attempts of 20-plus yards in those games.

He has thrown five interceptions against one touchdown over the past two games, after throwing six TD passes and one pick the previous two weeks in wins against the New England Patriots and Detroit Lions.

Coach Ron Rivera defended his quarterback’s performance on Wednesday, noting that Chicago scored on a 75-yard fumble return and a 76-yard interception on plays that weren’t Newton’s fault.

“Well, let’s see,” Rivera said. “The ball ricochets off somebody’s hand, tips off another guy’s hand, gets tipped at the line of scrimmage, we drop a pitch … yeah. There’s more to it. People look at numbers and they start saying one thing or another.

“We’ve had four weeks in a row where we’ve had almost 300 yards consecutively of total offense. … We put points up against Philadelphia. We had a couple of bad things happen. I’m not sure you can directly point those at the quarterback.”

Rivera said he’d like to believe fluke things have happened the past two weeks that have made Newton and the offense look worse than they have been.

“I’d like to think we all saw the game, we all saw those things happen,” he said. “It’s not like he tried to have those things happen is my point. That’s why we don’t need to start pushing panic buttons.”

When asked about some of the fluke things to which Rivera referred, Newton said, “It is what it is.”

“Nobody cares about my feelings. Nobody cares if the ball popped up in the air or got tipped,” he added. “It’s just on us to make sure when we have opportunities to make plays and to do things we know we’re capable of doing, we’ve just got to do it.

“And I’m speaking more so of the man in mirror. And everything falls in place.”