Sunday, October 13, 2013
Ron Rivera taking chances, winning
By David Newton
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- Riverboat Rivera.
Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?
By nature, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera is conservative. It goes against everything he's always believed as a former linebacker and defensive coordinator to take gambles.
He was criticized unmercifully by the media and fans after a 24-23 loss at Buffalo in Week 2 for kicking a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the Bills' 21-yard line with a 20-17 lead and 1:42 remaining.
At that time, only one of the other 31 NFL teams had gone for it on fourth down less than Carolina since Rivera took over in 2011. That was the coach Rivera replaced, Denver's John Fox.
But ever since then, it seems, Rivera has gone for it almost every time there's been a critical fourth-and-1 call. He did it twice on the first drive of Sunday's 35-10 victory against the Minnesota Vikings.
So maybe he's changing his stripes.
"Well, it's kind of what we're going to do and we're going to do the best we can to make things happen,'' Rivera said. "These guys bought into it.''
No, Rivera bought into it. He understands the importance of scoring touchdowns instead of field goals for the psyche of his offense. It shows that side of the ball confidence they can make it, and the defense confidence they can stop the opponent if the offense comes up short.
Having said that, Rivera made the right call not to go for it at Buffalo. He went with the odds of making a rookie quarterback playing in his second game drive 80 yards for a touchdown against a top -- albeit injured -- defense.
In most cases, he wins.
Rivera also made the right call at the Metrodome on Sunday. It was scoreless and if either of the calls failed there were three and a half quarters to make up for it.
He also had the luxury of a defense that already had intercepted Matt Cassel once, that has played well throughout the season.
So he took a chance. He gambled.
And won. Twice.
First running back Mike Tolbert gained two yards on fourth-and-1 from the Minnesota 32. Then quarterback Cam Newton completed a touchdown pass to wide receiver Steve Smith on fourth-and-1 from the 2.
It set the tone for the offense, and demoralized the Vikings.
"It means a lot,'' Newton said. "Being in a hostile environment and knowing that we need an edge in this game, we went for it. For him to trust us means a lot and it speaks volumes.''
That everyone understands Rivera's conservative mindset made it mean even more.
"I think that he is kind of breaking his mold to a degree, and giving the whole team confidence with him,'' Newton said.
You could feel that confidence afterwards.
"It's awesome and it's great,'' Smith said.
Said safety Quintin Mikell, "That's what you have to do in times like that when you have your backs against the wall. If we didn't get it, hey, the defense was going to step up and make a play.''
Riverboat Rivera. It may stick.