Ron Rivera really has been on a roll this season. He started out with a few stumbles, failing to pull the trigger on fourth down in consecutive games to start the season, with both decision’s leading to a soul-crushing, game-winning drive by the opposition. Those blunders planted Rivera squarely on the hot seat, with the critics turning the heat up to inferno.
Rivera received a myriad of flak about his overbearing conservatism and lack of faith in the offense, to which he had no choice but to respond. He did so in franchise-shifting fashion, going for it and converting on a number of fourth downs this season, which have in turn turned the Carolina Panthers from a laughingstock to a dangerous playoff team.
Rivera has been dynamite with his decision making this season, but he almost came off the track on Sunday against the New York Jets. Much like what happened against the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome, Rivera settled for field goals early in the game instead of taking a chance on fourth and short, leaving the Panthers with six points instead of fourteen. That strategy really hurt them against the Saints, for while they were fine at 6-0 early in that game, a quick Saints run left them trailing 21-6.
The Panthers were able to go into the locker room with a 16-6 lead, but soon those eight lost points would be felt. In third quarter, looking at a 4th & 2, Rivera decided to go for it. But instead of running with Cam Newton or Mike Tolbert, Rivera decided on a pass, and ended up with a sack.
The Jets then marched down the field and scored, trimming the lead to 16-13. The heat was starting to creep back up Ron’s neck, but he was soon cooled off by clutch plays from Jason Williams and Captain Munnerlyn, which gave the Panthers a sizable lead.
Though the results may not have been in his favor, I ultimately believe that he made the right decision. The Panthers would have been in bad shape had they failed to convert fourth downs instead of taking those Graham Gano‘s field goals, and the failed fourth down was not Rivera’s fault.
If Cam had converted that fourth down then they would have had a chance to put the Jets away, and while the defense couldn’t keep them out of the end zone, they have proven to be reliable throughout the season. Rivera got the “Riverboat Ron” nickname because going for it on fourth down is gamble, a gamble that he has become exceedingly adept at winning.
There was no way he could have known Newton would be sacked; for all he knew, it could have resulted in a touchdown. The players on the field need to step up in those situations to help out their coach, but again, fourth down is always a gamble. No matter how much you win, you’re bound to lose eventually.