Ron Rivera had a decision to make, and he didn't hesitate: With the Carolina Panthers leading by four points and facing a fourth-and-1 from the Atlanta Falcons' 14-yard line with five minutes left in the first half of Sunday's game at Bank of America Stadium, the third-year coach confidently kept his offense on the field, displaying the breezy bravado for which he is well-known.

Or, to be accurate: The bravado for which he's been well-known for the past seven weeks.

Previously, for the first 34 games of his head-coaching career, Rivera was more conservative than Ronald Reagan -- only with far less success. Yet since experiencing an epiphany following a mid-September defeat in Buffalo that seemed to drive him further into Dead Coach Walking irrelevance, he has been less encumbered by convention than adult-cinema icon Ron Jeremy.

Sure enough on Sunday, "Riverboat Ron" passed on the easy three points and took a risk, dialing up what turned out to be a perfect call for the situation: Quarterback Cam Newton sold a sublime play-fake to running back Mike Tolbert, rolled to his right and lofted a gentle pass to tight end Greg Olsen, who was wide open at the goal line after executing a convincing slam block, releasing upfield and slipping outside.

And sure enough, the Panthers (5-3) were well on their way to a 34-10 victory, their fourth consecutive triumph (and fifth in six games) since their embattled head coach stopped playing it safe.

"It's funny, because you're told to 'play it by the book,' but is that truly the book?" Rivera reflected Sunday afternoon after leaving the stadium. "The book says you take the points. But hey, you've got to score touchdowns to win in this league. You can't just sit there and take field goals. Think about it: Who wrote 'The Book'? There is no book."