What does Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera need to do in the second half of the season to keep his job?
No one knows except Panthers team owner Jerry Richardson, and hes not talking.
Rivera used the phrase trend up again Monday when I asked him what would be realistic for his Carolina Panthers over the seasons final eight games.
You want to win them all, Rivera said. You want to win as many as you can. What that number is I dont know. .... Theres a lot of people watching. We have to make sure they see we are trying to do things the right way. This game is about production. Its a business of production.
The Panthers produced at the end of the game for the first time since mid-September Sunday, solidly beating Washington 21-13 on the road. That was a slight trending up if you can call one afternoon a trend and a welcome change from how the first two months of the season had gone.
Carolina (2-6) had lost five in a row going into Washington and general manager Marty Hurney had been fired along the way.
The new general manager will have input into whether Rivera stays or goes (the coach is in the second year of a four-year contract). And we dont know who that new GM will be yet.
A 6-2 second half would show major progress and might save the jobs of Rivera and his staff. Anything less would mean a losing record for the 2012 season and could be the kiss of death.
Rivera would like to downplay comparisons between himself and Denver head coach John Fox this week, and thats understandable.
Just from my point of view, the less we say about that, the better, Rivera said.
Fox was the coach of the Carolina Panthers for nine seasons. Rivera is halfway through his second, with no guarantee he will be around for his third.
If the Panthers can upset Denver Sunday in Bank of America Stadium, however, that would be a major boost to Riveras tenuous job security.
For symbolism, it would be hard to top beating the man you supplanted as the Panthers head coach, even though that man has a quarterback in Peyton Manning who is one of the best QBs in history.
At 2-6, the Panthers would need to go 7-1 or 8-0 in the second half of the season to make a very unlikely playoff run. That is almost out of the realm of possibility, but not quite. Only two teams left on the Panthers schedule (Denver and Atlanta, both home games) have a winning record.
Interesting historical note: In 2004, the Panthers started 1-7. Then they went on a 6-1 tear and ultimately needed to only beat New Orleans at home in the final game of the season to sneak into the playoffs at 8-8. But they lost that one, finishing 7-9.
That season came under Fox, as did three of Carolinas four playoff seasons and the Panthers only Super Bowl appearance. Until the last of his nine seasons, when the team imploded and went 2-14 in 2010, Fox was relatively popular in Charlotte.
Rivera was popular last year, too. But the honeymoon has ended and the tough work has begun. Even after Sundays win, Rivera is 8-16 as the Panther coach.
A victory over the Broncos would make Riveras life a whole lot easier. Then a trend really might start to take hold at Bank of America Stadium.
But a loss to the favored Broncos would push Rivera one step closer to the precipice.