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In My Opinion

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Panthers coach Ron Rivera finds support before and after 38-0 victory

Long before Carolina’s victory against the New York Giants is official, a source tells me Ron Rivera never was in danger of losing his job.

The source says Rivera would finish the season as head coach regardless of how the Panthers played Sunday against the Giants.

After Carolina’s 38-0 victory, I tell Rivera he probably won’t be asked about job security this week.

“You look at our guys and some of the things they do and the fact that they really want to win,” Rivera says. “And to win games like this, it’s because they deserve that opportunity. These guys have gone through a lot in the last three seasons, and I think to win a game like this, especially a team coached by Tom Coughlin, says something about who they are. And these guys have persevered, and hopefully this is the catalyst for us to get rolling.”

Rivera doesn’t talk about what the victory means to him.

Will he show it?

As the game winds down, Rivera moves between the 40- and 50-yard lines, wearing black headphones that match his black Panthers shirt.

Some fans undoubtedly prefer that Rivera move farther – California, perhaps.

The Panthers lost their opening game 12-7 to Seattle and lost last week 24-23 to Buffalo. Rivera elected not to go for a clinching first down against the Bills. Carolina kicked a field goal and watched the Bills drive 80 yards, with a rookie quarterback and with no timeouts, for the touchdown and the victory.

Rivera chooses to kick off against the Giants Sunday. He wants to give his defense, which had a week to think about Buffalo’s winning drive, an opportunity to get back on the field. The move is classy and effective.

Little the Panthers did last week was effective. Fans were frustrated and furious and needed somebody to blame. Some chose owner Jerry Richardson. Some chose quarterback Cam Newton. But most chose Rivera.

All week speculation was rampant that if the Panthers failed to beat the New York Giants, Rivera would be replaced. I contributed to the speculation.

The Panthers have a bye this week, so if they were going to make a move, the timing was convenient.

And then the Panthers run onto the Bank of America Stadium turf and play as complete and as dominating a game as they have in – forever?

As the game winds down, Rivera shows little emotion. He shouts encouragement to safety Mike Mitchell as Mitchell hangs with New York’s Rueben Randle on a pass in front of the Panthers bench.

Steve Smith stands next to Rivera. Later, Brandon LaFell does. Rivera crouches, watching.

With 45 seconds remaining, rookie safety Robert Lester, who last week was on Carolina’s practice squad, intercepts Curtis Painter’s pass. Rivera runs onto the field and hugs Lester and then cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn and Melvin White.

In the last 30 seconds Rivera hugs Newton and receivers coach Ricky Proehl and security man Gene Brown. If you’re in Rivera’s path, you are hugged. You might be hugged if you aren’t.

When the game ends Rivera runs onto the field and finds New York coach Tom Coughlin. He meets a few New York players. Then he heads toward the tunnel. The idea is to win, and the Panthers did.

Then Rivera reaches the 30-yard-line, stops and thrusts his hands into the air and looks into the bleachers.

His wife, Stephanie, is there.

The past two weeks have been miserable for the head coach. To be a public figure is to be criticized. Maybe some can ignore it. But how many can ignore all of it?

Sunday’s 38-point victory might have won back some fans. Stephanie, he didn’t have to win back.

So why hold back?

Rivera’s eyes go moist as he says, “She needs to know that I appreciate it.”

Sorensen: 704-358-5129; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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