The Buffalo loss never leaves Rivera. Just as Newton has had to learn to process losses, Rivera has learned just how precious an NFL victory can be and how betraying your instincts can destroy that victory. Since the Buffalo game, he has gone for it on fourth down seven times, converting on five. As much as Newton's growth, Rivera's sudden aggressiveness has been heralded as a major reason the Panthers are suddenly in playoff contention.
But he agonizes over the Buffalo game. There's a big difference between being 5-3 and 6-2 and he keeps asking himself why he strayed from his springtime promise.
Last week he was driving home from the stadium, heading down a hill, passing under the Belk Freeway when Buffalo popped in his mind. A knot formed in his stomach. He ran the end of the game through his mind, ignoring the fact the light before him had turned red. From the corner of his eye he could see a car heading toward him and at the last second he stepped on the brake narrowly avoiding an accident.
"Seriously [the loss] eats at me," he said. "It friggin' pisses me off to no end. And maybe that's what it took. Maybe that's the revelation I needed."