MINNEAPOLIS - Some way, somehow, it seems to always come down to fourth-and-1, a sticky situation that often has resulted in an unfortunate outcome from the Panthers' perspective.
But Sunday, the curse of fourth-and-1 became a blessing, leading to hope that the tables have at long last turned.
"To have Coach Rivera give us the go-ahead on two fourth-and-ones in one drive is pretty gutsy," left tackle
Sunday's success wasn't unprecedented. In the Panthers' last victory, a 38-0 demolition of the New York Giants in Week 3, Carolina turned a fourth-and-1 into a touchdown early in the game to send them on their way.
This time, though, they pushed the envelope a bit more and were rewarded. Facing a fourth-and-1 from the Vikings 32-yard line, with the option of trying a 49-yard field goal in a scoreless game, the Panthers picked the more aggressive path.
"We're going to do the best we can to make things happen, and I think these guys have bought into that," Rivera said. "Our third-down efficiency was outstanding, and of course we were two-for-two on fourth down."
After a timeout, quarterback
"In a hostile environment, knowing that we need an edge in this game, we went for it," Newton said. "For Coach Rivera to trust us, it means a lot. It speaks volumes.
"He's a defensive coach by nature, so he has that conservative mentality, but I think he's kind of breaking his mold to a degree and giving the whole team confidence with that."
Given past results – the Giants game notwithstanding - it would be understandable if Rivera lacked confidence regardless of the approach he decided best come fourth-and-1.
It started a year ago in a pivotal Week 4 game at the Atlanta Falcons. Ahead 28-27 and facing a fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 45, the Panthers punted, downed the punt at the 1 with 1:09 left - and lost.
A week later, the Panthers couldn't convert a fourth-and-goal from the 1 that they had no choice but to go for trailing Seattle 16-12 in the waning minutes and lost. Five games later, they punted on fourth-and-1 at midfield leading Tampa Bay 21-13 with 1:09 left. They lost.
This year, in Week 2 at Buffalo, they faced a fourth-and-1 at the Bills 21 with 1:42 to go and decided to kick a field goal that put them ahead 23-17. They lost. And just last week,
The truth is that every one of those decisions on fourth-and-1 made sense. But with uncanny regularity, the Panthers either didn't make the play when they went for it or the opposition made a series of plays after the Panthers didn't go for it.
Sunday's fourth-down decisions were no more or no less sound. But how the Panthers responded to the decisions created the sound of silence around Minnesota's notoriously loud dome home.
"It sends the message that Coach Rivera has confidence in our group. That goes a long way," center