The Carolina Panthers were 1-3 when the legend of “Riverboat Ron” was born.
It was a scoreless tie in the first quarter in a road game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Panthers faced fourth-and-1 at the Vikings’ 32. This was where Rivera had always taken a field goal.
He had gambled for it on fourth down less often than any coach in the NFL in the first 34 games of his career, which included a punch-in-the-gut loss at Buffalo that had featured Rivera taking a field goal instead of going for a game-winning first down.
But Rivera kept the offense out. Mike Tolbert bulled for 2 yards.
Six plays later, the Panthers had another fourth-and-1 from the 2. Rivera went all in once more, and Cam Newton fired a touchdown pass to Steve Smith.
The Panthers would win that game and rip off seven more victories in a row. To me, the whole tenor of the Panthers’ season changed in that drive. Newton seemed to recognize it too, saying after the game of his coach: “I think he is kind of breaking his mold to a degree – and giving the whole team confidence with him.” Scott Fowler
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