Ron Rivera's latest epiphany behind Panthers' streak

The continuing education of Ron Rivera remains one of the NFL's most fascinating subplots.

Last year's Carolina Panthers stumbled out of the blocks only to hit their stride once "Riverboat Ron" rejected lifelong football lessons and began embracing a gambling style on manageable fourth downs.

Despite echoing Moneyball theories in roster building last offseason, Rivera suffered a football relapse early this season, falling back into hidebound conservative habits that contributed to his team's 19-17 loss to the Falcons in Week 11.

Rivera's latest football epiphany is the understanding that passively settling for field goals rather than aggressively going for touchdowns late in a close game is a losing philosophy.

Although Rivera defended his run-run-run strategy in the aftermath of that Week 11 loss, he has since realized offensive coordinator Mike Shula has to mix the pass with the run to pick up key first downs and continue to milk the clock.

"Lessons learned. I'm not going to kid myself about that," Rivera said Monday, via The Charlotte Observer. "I was conservative there (against the Falcons). I thought we could grind it out. I was hoping we could do like we did (against Cleveland) and get the first down by running it. Unfortunately, we didn't."

Rivera developed his coaching style under the leadership of Mike Ditka, Andy Reid, Lovie Smith and Norv Turner -- four "play it by the book" coaches not known for innovation and aggressive game management.

It's refreshing to see Rivera's ongoing struggle to reconcile his long-held philosophy with an expanded understanding of probability in determining the outcome of football games.

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