Steve Smith celebrates his second-quarter touchdown reception. (Chuck Burton/AP)
There are those analysts who lie in wait for risky football decisions to fail so that they can question the sanity of the coaches making those decisions, but the Carolina Panthers actually succeeded by failing during their divisional round matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. On the first play of the second quarter, Rob Rivera's team had 4th-and-goal from the San Francisco 1-yard line. As the teams switched sides, everyone wondered if "Riverboat Ron," so named for his frequent aggression in fourth-down situations, would go for it with the 49ers up 6-0.
The Panthers were 10-of-13 on fourth-down conversions in the regular season, so it made sense to play the odds. However, as Cam Newton tried to sneak it right up the middle, linebacker Ahmad Brooks shot in and blew up the gap, stopping Newton short.
So, the 49ers took over on downs. But as much as some might want to criticize Rivera, the risk actually turned out in the Panthers' favor. The 49ers were stuck right by their own end zone, and Rivera knows how good his defense is. Colin Kaepernick gained two yards on first down, threw incomplete to Quinton Patton on second down and nearly had his third-down throw to Michael Crabtree picked off by safety Quintin Mikell. Andy Lee punted 52 yards to Ted Ginn Jr. at the Carolina 45-yard line, and Ginn returned the punt 24 yards to the San Francisco 31-yard line.
One play later -- BOOM. Newton threw a gorgeous pass to Steve Smith over cornerback Tarell Brown, and the Panthers were on the board. All because Ron Rivera wasn't afraid to take a big risk.
(GIFs courtesy Bleacher Report