After falling to 3-9, the only glimmer of hope left for Rivera was to win out – and win out convincingly.
To the surprise of just about everyone, Rivera's team came out the next week and walloped the division-rival Atlanta Falcons, handing them just their second loss of the season. The final was 30-20, but the game was much more lopsided than the scoreboard indicated.
After that dominating victory, Rivera made his return to San Diego a successful one as the Panthers dominated the Chargers, 31-7.
The aftermath of the Panthers' success in the past two weeks has resulted in some optimism about Rivera’s future in Carolina.
"It is true that there is a lot of blame that could be directed at him and his staff for the poor season the Panthers experienced this year, but they are still in a position to finish the season with a slightly better record than last year," writes Charles Edwards of Bleacher Report. "While a 7-9 record is nothing to get excited about, it would mean a huge boost for a team that just four weeks ago looked like a team primed to pick in the top five of next April's draft."
Panther nation has endured so many disappointing fourth quarter defeats under Rivera the past two years that it's very easy to switch perspectives after the slightest degree of success. The latest two victories, as impressive as they were, do not address Rivera’s inability to win close games. He still remains 1-12 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
We can rehash the 11 unanswered fourth-quarter points scored by the Buccaneers in Week 11, or the Panthers' meltdown in the final minute against the Falcons in Week 4, but the embarrassing loss against the Chiefs should have sealed Rivera’s fate. The second-year head coach failed to guide the Panthers to victory in a tight one against a Kansas City team that had just won just a single game all season.
Under Rivera, the Panthers have needed to play extraordinarily well, like the previous two contests, to win football games. However, in an NFL where the average team plays seven to eight games decided by a touchdown or less in a given season, the Panthers should expect to be in a substantial amount of close calls next year. It is very rare that something happens 12 out of 13 times by chance- and it is clear that the Panthers are at a disadvantage when the game gets tight. Carolina has just two games remaining on the schedule, and there's just not enough time left for Rivera to reverse his fortune.
Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, who were hired at the same time as Rivera, are leading their respective teams to the playoffs with young quarterbacks.
Rivera, on the other hand, is still figuring out how to win close games. He is clearly miles behind Harbaugh and Carroll and it seems unrealistically optimistic that things will change under Rivera in 2013.
Consider this: In the past 17 years, no head coach who failed to take their team to the playoffs in their second season has won a Super Bowl. If the last 17 years are a predictor for future – that doesn't bode well for Rivera or the Carolina Panthers.
It will be a mistake to invest another year in Rivera, who has proven over the last two seasons to be a lightweight NFL head coach. The Panthers need to put some serious effort into finding a coach who will not just level the playing field, but give them the edge they need to win close games.
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