Late last season Ron Rivera was a good football coach. He believed in his team and he proved it by taking the kinds of chances he disdained Sunday in Orchard Park, N.Y.
Some of you contend that Carolinas victories late last season were meaningless. The Panthers were hopelessly out of the playoffs. What was the point?
The point was to be better than the other team. The point was to experience winning and remember how it felt. No victory is meaningless. Win four straight and five of six, and you did something, regardless of the months in which those victories occurred.
About those chances: Last season it was as if Rivera was a gambler, the California Kid. Texas Hold Em? No. Fourth and 1.
Carolina attempted nine fourth-down conversions in 2012, only three of them with success. (Opponents converted 10 of 19.)
But the Panthers hit their last two one at Bank of America Stadium in a victory against Atlanta and the following week in San Diego in a victory against the Chargers.
I wouldnt say Rivera left San Diego swaggering; hes not the kind of guy who is compelled to show everybody what hes feeling. But in mid-December Rivera was confident.
And I swear that confidence pervaded the organization. If the situation called for a risk, Rivera took it. There was, as the season moved to a close, the feeling that they were not going to be stopped.
The Panthers earned that mindset by winning their final four games.
Think about your games. Hit a couple baskets, you assume youll hit more, as does the poor sap charged with guarding you. Get hot on the pool table and you can envision your unfortunate opponent picking up the rack and setting them up again.
The Panthers arent swaggering at the moment. Theyre staggering.
If they lose at home Sunday to the New York Giants theyll be 0-3, 0-for-September and out of the playoffs yet again.
Im not saying the Panthers will make the playoffs if they beat the Giants. (Drugs are bad.) But at least theyll know they can win. After the bye they play at Arizona, at Minnesota, at home against St. Louis and at Tampa Bay. Although the Rams have improved considerably, the record of Carolinas next four opponents is 2-6.
The Buffalo loss was among the most devastating in Panthers history. Sundays game against the Giants is among the most important.
Lose and we count down the days until Oct. 1 when the Charlotte Bobcats open training camp.
Win and we at least get to imagine that it could be December 2012 again.
Sorensen: 704-358-5119; email@example.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen