NFL: Another strong finish for Panthers

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 17, 2012

CHARLOTTE — While Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes a strong finish is crucial for his team’s confidence heading into next season, he’s not sure if winning three of the last four games will be enough to save his job.

“I think we have to keep going,” Rivera said.

By that he means it’s important the Panthers beat Oakland and New Orleans to finish the season 7-9, which would better last year’s record by one game.

Carolina (5-9) enjoyed its first blowout win Sunday, crushing San Diego 31-7. That came one week after a decisive 30-20 upset win over Atlanta.

After Panthers owner Jerry Richardson fired general manager Marty Hurney following a 1-5 start, he told Rivera the team needed to be “trending upward” the rest of the way for him to keep his job.

The Panthers are 4-4 since.
However, the latest stretch — one in which second-year Cam Newton has combined for 13 touchdowns in the last five games without a turnover — provides a bit of promise for the future and could convince Richardson to give Rivera another shot.

“This isn’t about a couple of good wins or emotional wins,” Rivera said of his own future. “It’s really about the whole body of work.”

Rivera said Monday that he’s under the impression that Richardson, not the team’s future GM, will make the decision on the coaching staff’s future.

That could also factor into Rivera’s corner since often times new GMs like to bring in their own coaching staff.

Rivera, who is 11-20 in two seasons in Carolina, said he’s made some mistakes as a first-time head coach.

However, the former Bears and Chargers defensive coordinator believes he’s improved in a number of areas, including delegating authority and managing coaches and players.

“I will put myself up against anybody in terms of Xs and Os,” Rivera said. “I feel very confident of that. But I’ve had to learn a lot about managing. When you’re managing 26 people and five coaches (as a defensive coordinator) and then suddenly you’re managing 61 people and 17 coaches it’s a little different… So there’s been a lot to learn and grow on.”

Rivera points out that because of the NFL lockout last year he’s only had 16 months to get to know his players.

He didn’t have the luxury of OTAs or minicamps last season.

Rivera said one mistake he might have made when putting together his coaching staff in 2011 was not hiring anyone with any significant NFL head coaching experience.

“In retrospect to have an older gentlemen that could have looked over my shoulder might have helped,” Rivera said.

Still, the players remain staunch supporters of Rivera and some believe it would be a mistake to break up the cohesiveness that is beginning to form.

“We really have something outstanding going on here in this locker room,” receiver Steve Smith. “If we can continue to do the things we’re doing now, we’re going to have some great things to look forward to in the future.”

Newton refused to talk about the future, saying he’s not done with this season.

“We aren’t looking to the end of the season to prove ourselves,” Newton said. “We’re trying to come out and practice to execute each and every day so come game time we can put a nice product out there on the field.”

Carolina won four of its last four games in 2011 and seemed to ready to carry that momentum into this season.

Instead, their potent offense sputtered out of the game and the Panthers opened the season 1-6, crushing any hopes of a trip to the playoffs.

“It’s a different set of circumstances this time,” Rivera said. “I believe this team is maturing a little more than last year. Hopefully going forward we will be able to better manage our expectations as a team. We have to realize that we have not arrived.”

Before the season three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil even took out a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper promising fans a Super Bowl win.

Rivera said he likes Kalil’s confidence, but said next time he’d like to see that kept in house and not made public.He said it might have added undue pressure.

As for the pressure surrounding his own future, Rivera said “there are a lot of things I feel good about here. But again, we’ll see how it goes in two weeks.”