He told David Newton of ESPN.com this has been uncharted territory for him.
This is new ground for me. I'm fortunate I've got some guys that have been through these tough times. I've talked to several of them a couple of times. I've got some friends in the league that I call and talk with.
But this really isn’t new.
The Panthers are 0-2, with a five-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks and a one-point heartbreaker to the Buffalo Bills on this season’s resume. This isn’t the first time Carolina has started 0-2 under Rivera. In fact, starting the season slow seems to be Rivera’s modus operandi.
Carolina lost both of its first two games in 2011 in Rivera’s first season with the team. The Panthers started 1-5 on the way to a 6-10 season. Last season, the team started 1-6 before rebounding to finish with a 7-9 record. Carolina won five of its last six games and beat the New Orleans Saints, 44-38, in the final week of the season to save Rivera’s job.
Rivera told ESPN.com he goes into every game thinking his team should win, expecting it even. But the results haven’t come.
Under Rivera, the Panthers are 13-21 and have lost 14 of their 21 games by a touchdown or less. The silver lining to two-thirds of your losses coming in one-possession games is the reassurance that the games were extremely close. The negative is that with the games so close, small things could have made a difference and turned them into wins.
Could one of those small things have been coaching?
Could a different play or a set of plays at any stretch of the game have produced a more favorable outcome? Could the decision to start or sit a player have been a deciding factor? What about the game plan? Could the Panthers have won half of those one-possession battles and 14 losses by tweaking the game plan either during or before the game?
It’s useless to dwell on what could have been over the past few seasons. But soon, and it’s possible he’s already pondering the situation, Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman is going to have to decide on whether to replace Rivera during the 2013 season.
Should he or shouldn’t he, and could it be as early as Week 3 when the Panthers host the New York Giants?
That’s a very interesting question. Not because of whom the opponent is or solely because of how early in the season this game takes place. The determining factor may be the bye week that comes for the Panthers following the Giants game.
Unfortunately for Rivera, the Panthers have their bye week in Week 4 this season. If the Panthers are going to fire Rivera prior to the completion of the 2013 season, it makes the most sense to do it directly after Carolina’s Week 3 game against the Giants. That way, the franchise has an off week to digest the coaching change and two weeks before they play again under the new boss.
Consequently, Sunday’s game is exceptionally important to Rivera’s future.
The simple answer for Rivera is to win the game. If the Panthers beat the Giants at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Rivera will keep his job, at least for the foreseeable future.
If Carolina loses?
The Panthers were embarrassed at home last season by the Giants, 36-7. Another loss like that might show Gettleman that his team isn’t growing under Rivera.
There's also another scenario. If the Panthers are in a situation to win the game but cannot, or if Carolina loses another game by a touchdown or less, Gettleman might be forced to think a coaching change could spark a different outcome in close games.
In the three seasons Rivera has been head coach, the Panthers have never started 0-3. For Rivera’s sake, 2013 shouldn’t be that first season.
If so, Sunday might be his last game as a head coach.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.