CHARLOTTE — A week after keeping the league’s top rookie quarterback in check, the Panthers will take aim at the oldest starting quarterback in the league — and one with Hall of Fame credentials.

Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who went to high school in Memphis, remembers watching Peyton Manning when he played for Tennessee in the late 1990s. Like everyone else, Hardy followed Manning’s record-setting NFL career in Indianapolis and, now, Denver.

But Hardy said the Panthers can’t put Manning on a pedestal. They need to try to put him on the ground today.

“He’s been playing before I wanted to play,” Hardy said Wednesday. “I saw him in college, checking out the SEC growing up. He’s a great quarterback. But you can’t put him on a pedestal. He’s a football player. And they all fall.

“It’s his job to throw the football. I’m going to try to put him on the ground, keep him flustered and see what happens.”

Led by Hardy and defensive end Charles Johnson, the Panthers have been on a pass-rushing tear. They have 10 sacks in their past two games, including four against Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III in the second half of last week’s 21-13 win.

Though notoriously slow of foot, Manning is known for his quick release and ability to check into plays at the line of scrimmage to beat a blitz or minimize a pass rush. The Broncos have not allowed a sack the past three games, and have given up just 10 all season.

It should be a good test today at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers rank second in the NFL in sacks per pass play; the Broncos are second in fewest sacks allowed per pass play.

“He’s a dynamic guy. Even though he can’t run, he can check into a run,” Hardy said. “He can put you into whatever he wants to put you in and keep you on your heels. With a quarterback like that, if you sit back on your heels he’s going to eat you alive.”

Manning, 36, has shown little rust after missing last season following four neck surgeries in a two-year span. His streak of five consecutive 300-yard passing games ended last week at Cincinnati, when he threw for 291 yards in a 31-23 win.

The Panthers’ defense has been among the NFL’s best over the past four weeks.

But cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said Manning is a different type of challenge.

“This guy right here is Hall of Fame. He’s a very special quarterback,” Munnerlyn said. “You just hope to contain, make some plays on the ball and force him into some mistakes.”

Manning threw three interceptions in the first quarter of a Week 2 loss at Atlanta on “Monday Night Football.” But he’s only thrown three other interceptions this season, although two came in the second half last week against the Bengals.

Manning has 20 touchdown passes.

“He gets off the ball real fast. He reads the field so fast. There’s always an open guy,” Munnerlyn said. “You try to do things to confuse him but he’s one of those guys that can read real fast and just make big plays every single time. Hopefully we can confuse him a little bit. Hopefully, the D-line can get after him.”

Hardy said the front four certainly will try.

“Same deal as RGIII. Just get back there, hit him a little bit, try to get him rattled,” Hardy said. “It’s going to be a little harder because it’s Peyton. He’ll come back and hit you back.”


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