For the first time in franchise history the Panthers have scored 30-plus points in four consecutive weeks, sending the Atlanta Falcons to a 34-10 defeat on Sunday. The outcome was fitting, as that's also the average margin of victory in Carolina's five victories this season.
The calendar might flip, but the script remains the same. Faced with a fourth-and-1 red-zone dilemma early in the second quarter, "Riverboat Ron" stuck to his newfound mantra that touchdowns are better than field goals. The ensuing 14-yard play-action touchdown pass to Greg Olsen gave the Panthers a 14-3 lead, and they never looked back.
A Carolina defense that has allowed the fewest points in the league pressured Matt Ryan into three interceptions, including his first pick six in three years. Throw in a typically balanced Panthers offense, and Rivera throttled a bad team for the fifth time in the last six games.
Here's what else we learned in Sunday's game:
1. After Julio Jones was lost for the season, we wondered on the "Around The League Podcast" if Matt Ryan might face plant the rest of the way. Although Ryan has been a top-six quarterback this season, he's now thrown at least three interceptions in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. Even with Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas playing well, Ryan desperately needs a healthy Roddy White back in the lineup.
2. Jonathan Stewart added a shot in the arm to the Panthers' ground attack, showing good burst and decisiveness. If he regains his pre-injury explosiveness in the coming weeks, he will join Cam Newton as the team's biggest playmaking threats.
3. Newton had his first two turnovers in three weeks, but still turned in an efficient performance while showing Ben Roethlisberger-esque escapability in the pocket. He's played the best ball of his career over the past month.
4. Steven Jackson had his second-most productive game of the season for the Falcons, but his longest play went for just 14 yards. With the porous offensive line as a caveat, Jackson simply hasn't been an upgrade on Michael Turner in the backfield.
5. Credit Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman for exploiting the second and third waves of free agency. Faced with salary-cap restrictions, Gettleman has gotten significant contributions from wide receiver Ted Ginn, left guard Travelle Wharton, linebacker Chase Blackburn and starting safeties Quintin Mikell and Mike Mitchell.
7. No kicker in the league has outplayed the Panthers' Graham Gano, who connected on a 55-yard field goal with plenty to spare. Gano has yet to miss a kick this season and averages the longest kickoffs in the NFL.