Rivera calculated, not a Riverboat gambler

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The look on the face of Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was priceless.

After spending a good portion of his Monday press conference talking about his changed approach when it comes to gambling on fourth down -- something he did successfully twice on the first series of Sunday's 35-10 victory at Minnesota -- I brought up Buffalo.

I asked if this new Riverboat Rivera would have gone for it on fourth-and-1 from the Buffalo 21 instead of kicking a field goal with 1:42 remaining and a three-point lead in the Week 2 game.

He smiled. He paused.

"I don't want to talk about the past," Rivera said.

He smiled some more. He paused some more.

"Which is the right call?" he continued. "The right call turns out to be one that you win with. If you win it's a great call. It goes all the way back to everybody talking about what Coach [New England's Bill] Belichick did against Indianapolis."

Let me interrupt to say for one who didn't want to talk about the past, Rivera went all the way back to 2009 when Belichick tried to convert a fourth-and-2 play at his own 28 with 2:08 remaining while leading the Colts with Peyton Manning 34-28.

The rest is well documented. The Patriots came up short. Manning answered with a touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with 13 seconds left. Indianapolis won 35-34.

"If they complete the pass it's a great call," Rivera said. "If you don't complete the pass everybody wonders why? So I have to look at it that way."

The Panthers (2-3) lost to Buffalo 24-23 on a touchdown pass from rookie quarterback EJ Manuel to Stevie Johnson with two seconds left. Odds are, Rivera probably makes the same call again today because that's what in most cases gives you the best chance to win.

But that call did make Rivera think deeper about future calls, and since he's been far more aggressive. The Panthers have gambled on fourth-and-1 five times in the last three games, and made it three times. They would have made it four had Brandon LaFell not dropped a pass at Arizona.

Just don't tell Rivera it was a gamble.

And don't call him Riverboat anything.

"No," he said. "That's not a gamble. It's what I believe is a calculated attempt. I do mean that in all sincerity. I do have a checklist that I try to go through and try to look at prior to going out on the field."

It's a long checklist, too.

"Are we expected to win? What type of game are we anticipating? Will this be a ground-and-pound type game?" Rivera said, sharing a few. "So there is a checklist with 32 things that I go through.

"I go through those before I go out field in my mind trying to set those things up. Obviously, my attitude has changed on a few of those points."

Fourth-and-1 is one of those areas. But don't let the gambles fool you. Everything Rivera does is calculated.

"The analytics of football really plays into those things," he said. "There are a lot things I go through now understanding it even more and learning it.

"As I look at it as a defensive coordinator you look at it one way, and then putting on the hat of a head coach you have to look at it most certainly from a different perspective. It's something that I've kind of grown into."

Just don't call him Riverboat Rivera. You'll get a funny look.