The Panthers are winners of three straight and four of five since that revelation. They have scored 30-plus points in each of those wins, outscoring opponents by an eye-popping 96 points.
Yes, the streak has come against opponents with a combined 5-22 record. Yes, Carolina still has to prove it can win a close game against a good team.
Nonetheless, the Panthers are above .500 for the first time since 2008. They've won consecutive games in October for the first time in the Rivera era.
The defense is the among the NFL's best.
It's not fair to blame Rivera when things go wrong, but not give him any credit when things are going right.
It's no surprise that Rivera, a former linebacker and defensive coordinator, is inclined to trust his defense with the game on the line. In fact, it took him until his third season as Panthers head coach to learn to take some chances with the offense.
Better late than never.
Rivera's transformation into Riverboat Ron, an aggressive head coach willing to chase the win instead of avoid the loss, has been a huge part of Carolina's turnaround over the last month.
Consider the following:
- Rivera opted to go for it on fourth and one at the two-yard line on the opening possession against the Giants in Week 3. Mike Tolbert punched in into the end zone to give the Panthers an early 7-0 lead and set the tone for an eventual 38-0 blowout.
- Faced with the exact same situation against the Vikings in Week 6, Rivera elected to go for it again. Cam Newton found Steve Smith for a two-yard touchdown to give Carolina another early touchdown lead.
- In Thursday night's victory against the Buccaneers, the Panthers – clinging to a 14-6 lead in the third quarter – faced a crucial fourth and one at the Tampa Bay 28-yard line. Recognizing the importance of a touchdown on that drive, Rivera again chose to go for it. Tolbert rumbled two yards for the first down, sustaining a drive which ultimately resulted in the game's most decisive touchdown.
While – depending on the particular matchup and game situation – a more conservative punt or field goal may be the right call, you should generally feel good about lining up for it on fourth and short with Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert in your arsenal.
But the most important part of Rivera's dramatic shift in coaching style is the effect it has in the locker room, particularly on Cam Newton.
Taking the ball out of Newton's hands with the game on the line conveys fear, doubt and distrust in your leader and most important player.
On the other hand, giving him the ball in critical situations projects trust and inspires confidence, which is especially important for a young quarterback.
The locker room is contagious, for the better or the worse.
The show of faith from the coaching staff has resonated with Newton and throughout the locker room, which ultimately helps change a losing culture into a winning one. It's no coincidence that the Panthers began playing their best football when the coaching staff began trusting the playmakers to win the game.
The Panthers still have everything to prove as they head into the meat of a schedule which gets tremendously more difficult down the stretch.
While they haven't made the playoffs yet, Ron Rivera deserves credit for creating a locker room that believes it will happen.
As the great Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Believe you can and you're halfway there."
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