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Monday, November 11, 2013
Rivera, Panthers should enjoy the moment

By David Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera didn't hesitate when asked how long it took him to stop smiling after Sunday's 10-9 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park.

"I haven't," he said Monday.

Rivera is embracing the victory, the five-game winning streak that has the Panthers (6-3) smack dab in the middle of the national spotlight with a "Monday Night Football" game against AFC powerhouse New England on the horizon.

He should. Less than two months ago, there were questions about whether he would survive past the bye week as the Panthers were 0-2 and on their way to 1-3. There was little to smile about.

So, he should enjoy this. So should his players. They should bask in the attention as long as it doesn't distract from the task at hand, which Rivera won't let them forget when they return from a two-day hiatus Wednesday.

Carolina's Ron Rivera
Ron Rivera said he still hasn't stopped smiling since the win at San Francisco.
The message remains to be relevant.

"If it does change from being relevant, it's going to being very relevant," Rivera said. "The guys understand. They like it. It helps. Winning helps. It makes everything taste better. That's the thing our guys are getting and are understanding.

"It's an interesting thing. We play professional football. We're in a great city, and we have good players that deserve some recognition."

They got that with Sunday's victory fueled by a defensive effort that was one of the best in team history. They'll get more recognition the closer they get to the MNF spotlight.

They should.

And they should take advantage of the moment to spread stories that wouldn't get heard outside the Charlotte market if the team were 2-7, as it was this time a year ago.

One that went unnoticed by many a year ago was the return of linebacker Thomas Davis from his third ACL surgery to the same knee. Rivera argues, and rightfully so, that Davis should have gotten stronger consideration for the comeback player of the year award that came down to Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson.

Davis didn't get that recognition because he was on a losing team.

"If you're winning games and doing things the right way, people pay attention," Rivera said. "It's a tremendous story. It's a story that a lot of kids, and people for that matter, should pay attention to because it's about never giving up. Never quitting. Chasing your dream. And then succeeding.

"Why? Because of the things you need to do to accomplish to be successful, to be relevant. That's why the message isn't going to change with these guys."

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Mike Shula agree. They're happy to see players finally getting recognition for doing something good instead of struggling.

There isn't a concern about publicity distracting from the cause. And there is a cause. It's been there all along, but it hasn't been close enough to acknowledge until Sunday's win against the reigning NFC champions.

"We're still on the road to our goal," safety Mike Mitchell said after the game. "It was big for us to get a big-time win, to keep our dreams alive, what we're trying to do, which is go to the playoffs and hope we make a push for the Super Bowl.

"That's been our goal since day one, and we kept that dream alive."

This team is hungry. Losing does that to you, and winning six of the past seven hasn't begun to whet the appetite.

That doesn't mean the Panthers shouldn't enjoy the journey. Rivera is. He has gone from saying how much he doesn't like the nickname "Riverboat Ron" after becoming such a gambler on fourth down to making jokes about it.

He did that when answering a question about how often he vetoes one of Shula's calls over the radio.

"I know probably the most important thing I say is, 'Hey, this is Riverboat Ron. Let's go for it,'" Rivera said.

He smiled.

That's what winning does for you, or should. New England's Bill Belichick doesn't smile enough for one of the most successful head coaches in league history.

Rivera knew ESPN's MNF crowd would spend a lot of time hyping next week's game during the Tampa Bay-Miami game, and he knew his players would be watching.

"Which is great," he said. "I hope they do, and I hope they enjoy it. But once we come in on Wednesday, the focus is on New England."

That hasn't been lost by the smile. Rivera will continue to approach the Patriots (7-2) no differently than he would the hapless Buccaneers.

"Well, yeah! Because it's the next game," he said, sticking to his season-long theme. "Who knows. Three or four weeks, the next game may be against somebody that doesn't have as good a record and everybody is, 'Ah, this could be a wash.'

"No, it's not. Because it's an important game. Because again, you have to keep winning. That could be the game that could be the difference."