Big win takes big heat off Rivera

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was running off the field following Sunday's 38-0 victory over the New York Giants when he stopped, looked into the stands and pointed.

"That was my wife,'' Rivera said with a smile. "She has been with me through all of this. She needs to know that I appreciated it.''

This, as Rivera referenced, has been speculation he may not have had another chance to run off the field as the Carolina coach if the Panthers had fallen to 0-3.

The thought was team owner Jerry Richardson, who fired general manager Marty Hurney during a 1-5 start last season, would make the change during the upcoming bye week.

Rivera never admitted how tough the speculation has been beyond saying he'd reached out to friends and coaches around the league -- and his wife -- for support.

That he stopped to point to his wife on this sun-splashed day when his team dominated every phase spoke volumes.

That he didn't dwell on the security the win gave him -- at least for a few weeks -- also spoke volumes.

"It's knowing that we can do these things, and that we have that type of ability,'' Rivera said. "Now we have something to build on, something to go forward [with]. Now we have a chance to keep rolling.''

Richardson has been quiet about his coach's future. But after seasons of 6-10 and 7-9, he was in the position of almost having to make a change if Carolina started 0-3.

Players seemed to sense that.

"You never know what's going to happen,'' left tackle Jordan Gross said. "You never know what decisions are going to be made. But the players all believe in [Rivera] and he believes in us.

"There's a business to this game, but there's also relationships. Everyone wanted to win because we knew it meant a lot to him.''

That was the message up and down a locker room in which the grim smiles of two heart-breaking losses to Seattle and Buffalo were replaced by smiles.

"We have a really eloquent players' coach,'' defensive end Greg Hardy said after sacking Giants quarterback Eli Manning three times. "He basically came down [this week] and said, 'You know what? Screw me. I'm here for you guys. This is what we're going to do. We're going to win because we're a team.'

"... He gives you something like that, it makes you want to play 10 times harder.''

That would have been the shame had Richardson been put in the position of making a change. The players really do, to quote Gross, love Rivera.

Not every coach in the league has that type of admiration.

At the same time, the Panthers had blown two fourth-quarter leads this season to fall to 2-14 in games decided by seven or fewer points since 2011 under Rivera. That number alone gets coaches fired.

Now, with the most-lopsided win in franchise history, that speculation will die down.

But the pressure doesn't end for Rivera because all of the pieces came together against a Giants team that appears to be falling apart. The Panthers were 1-1 a year ago after a 35-27 victory over New Orleans and then lost five straight.

That team had more questions than answers, though. This team's biggest questions before Sunday were the injury-riddled secondary and the lack of a go-to second or third receiver.

The secondary stepped up, holding Manning and the league's top pass offense to 119 yards. Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. stepped up with three catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. Brandon LaFell had three catches for 53 yards and two touchdowns.

There really does appear something for Rivera to build on, to prove he can succeed as a head coach.

So when asked what personal satisfaction he got out of the win, Rivera looked forward instead of behind, as you would expect him to.

"In all honestly, I can't worry about that,'' he said. "I have to worry about the next game. So the satisfaction is that we won. I'm happy for those guys in the room. They deserve it. These guys have been through a lot.''

So has Rivera.

The point said it all.