After more than a year away from the game, Greg Hardy makes his return to the NFL.
It is hardly a triumphant one. More like an uncomfortable and embarrassing one.
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For Hardy and for the NFL.
The Cowboys defensive end was one of the central figures in the league's domestic violence controversy last year, having been found guilty by a Mecklenburg County (N.C.) judge of assaulting his then-girlfriend at the player's home in Charlotte. He allegedly threw her onto a futon covered in guns, and was accused of choking her and threatening to kill her.
Hardy's conviction was eventually overturned after the woman declined to cooperate in the case, but the NFL suspended him 10 games last April. The sanction was reduced on appeal to four games, allowing him to return for Sunday's game against the Patriots.
Hardy showed no contrition in his first public remarks since returning to the NFL, and in fact drew intense and well-deserved criticism for referencing guns to describe his return.
"I hope I come out guns blazing," he told reporters.
Even if he did not deliberately use the phrase, it will still a poor choice of words, given the details of his alleged assault. In another questionable moment during the same press conference, he said of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, "You seen his wife? I hope she comes to the game. I hope her sister comes to the game. all her friends come to the game When I saw him marry , Tom went up in my eyes 100 percent. She's very, very attractive, and it shows what an outstanding individual Tom is."
Seriously? This is how you're going to come across in your first game back after being suspended by the NFL over a domestic violence incident involving a woman? Unlike former Ravens running back Ray Rice and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, the other two star players suspended for their respective roles in domestic violence last year, Hardy didn't make one mention of feeling remorse over his actions. Rice, who has not played since a video showing him punching his then-fiancee in the elevator of an Atlantic City hotel, and Peterson, who was suspended in connection with the harsh disciplining of his 4-year-old son, both expressed regret and seemed genuinely reformed about their views on domestic violence.
Hardy seemed anything but reformed, and set off some alarm bells within the organization.
"We addressed it immediately," coach Jason Garrett on Thursday. "That's not how we want to operate as an organization. Players and coaches in our organization understand that. We want to distinguish ourselves with our play, not with what we say. We define ourselves by what we do, not by what we say. Greg understands that now, and that's how we're going forward."
The controversy didn't end there. The website TMZ posted a rap video this week that Hardy participated in while he was suspended last year. In the video, there are several shots of strippers and the sound of gunfire. While the video may not have violated the league's policies on domestic violence, it did cross the line of common sense.
As Hardy returns to the NFL after being appropriately punished for his misdeeds, the hope here is that he eventually changes his perception of women.
Unfortunately, the hunch is he won't.
Red hot Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers has the Packers off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2011, and he leads the NFL with a 125.9 passer rating. But it's another stat that continues to amaze: He has thrown 48 touchdowns and no interceptions in his past 19 home games, including the playoffs. That's 580 straight passes without a pick; his last interception at home was on Dec. 2, 2012.
Could that streak be in jeopardy? Not as long as Rodgers continues to show an historic ability to not turn the ball over.
Rodgers doesn't make a big deal of his phenomenal numbers, and the only statistic he truly cares about is how many wins his team has.
"We're 4-0 and in first place in the division," he said. "We're playing the kind of ball we want to play in most phases of the game. But there are peaks and valleys throughout the season and there are ups and downs."
Rodgers set the single-season passer rating of 122.5 in 2011, when he won his first Most Valuable Player award. The Packers went 15-1 that year, but lost in the divisional playoffs at home to the Giants, who went on to win the Super Bowl.
A latter-day Kevin Faulk
It was a relatively unnoticed transaction during the week, but the Patriots' two-year contract extension for running back Dion Lewis shouldn't be underestimated.
Signed to a futures contract in February - which meant the Patriots basically took a flier on Lewis with only a minimal chance he'd make the team - Lewis has become a terrific utility back in the mold of former Patriots running backs Shane Vereen and Kevin Faulk. Vereen is now with the Giants, and Faulk enjoyed a 13-year career in New England.
"Dion had a really good offseason for us, works hard, is a well-conditioned player," coach Bill Belichick said after the extension was announced. "The volume we have on offense is extensive. He's done a good job of learning obviously all the running back stuff, but extended plays, empty plays, things like that where he's playing out of the backfield, various things. He did a good job for us in the kicking game. We could use him as a kickoff returner. He's learned a lot of different spots, a lot of different adjustments - all the different blitz pickups and so forth in the passing game - so he's picked things up well. He works hard. He's tough. He's here every day. Very coachable, just really tries to do what you ask him to do, whatever it is he just doesn't ask any questions, he just works hard to get it right. You love to coach guys like that."
Lewis was a fifth-round pick of the Eagles in 2011 and played two years with Philadelphia before being released. He signed with the Browns in 2013 but suffered a broken leg, and he didn't even play last season because no one was interested enough in him. And now he's a key player on the defending Super Bowl champions.
A rejuvenated Fitzgerald
Carson Palmer is enjoying a remarkable start after coming back from a knee injury, and a major beneficiary of the Cardinals quarterback's play is wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is putting up monster numbers through the first month of the season. Fitzgerald, who already has 30 catches for 432 yards and five touchdowns, is on a pace to finish with career highs in catches (120), yards (1728) and touchdowns (20).
Fitzgerald hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2010, due partly to the fact that there has been inconsistency at quarterback throughout that run. He was catching passes from quarterbacks like John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Lindley during that stretch, so having Palmer's return has provided a huge boost for the 32-year-old Fitzgerald.
Ware in the company of legends
DeMarcus Ware is off to a terrific start with 4 ½ sacks this season, helping the Broncos to a 4-0 record and making this defense one of the best in the game. Ware is entering the statistical realm where only a handful of great pass rushers have gone. He needs 1 ½ sacks to surpass former Chargers defensive end Leslie O'Neal and the man considered the greatest pass rusher of all time, Giants Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, both of whom had 132 ½ career sacks.
A month into the season, six teams remain unbeaten - the Falcons, Panthers, Bengals, Broncos, Packers and Patriots. Chances are most, if not all, those teams will be heading to the playoffs. Since the current playoff format was adopted in 1990, 83.1 percent of teams to start 4-0 have made it to the playoffs. (The Patriots can get to 4-0 with a win over Dallas on Sunday) The Bengals, who host the Seahawks on Sunday, are looking for their first 5-0 start since the 1988 season. That's the year Boomer Esiason won MVP honors and led the Bengals to the Super Bowl Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's 123.0 passer rating is tops in the AFC. That's the highest rating for any Bengals quarterback through four games The Broncos rank first in total defense (275.5 yards per game allowed) and passing defense (185.3 yards), and is second in scoring defense (17.2 points per game) The Broncos lead the NFL with 18 sacks ... The Patriots' 119 points are tied with the 2000 Rams for the most by a defending Super Bowl champion through the first three games of the season The Panthers are allowing 17.8 points per game, tied for the lowest in the NFC Since entering the league in 2012, Washington running back Alfred Morris is second in the NFL with 4,223 rushing yards. He's third with 28 rushing touchdowns Hollow stat of the week: Bears quarterback Jay Cutler needs five touchdown passes to pass Hall of Famer Sid Luckman (137) for the most in Bears history.