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Ron Rivera expects to return as coach of Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ron Rivera anticipates being back for a ninth year as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, despite missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

“I feel pretty good about it,” Rivera said Friday when asked about his future with the team. “My intention, and everything I’ve been doing, is working toward the future, and we’ll go from there. My conversations with the owner have been all positive.”

First-year owner David Tepper has not publicly said Rivera will be back next season, but multiple sources close to the situation say the two-time NFL Coach of the Year is safe.

Rivera in January was given an extension through 2020 before Carolina founder Jerry Richardson sold the team to Tepper. At that point, the Panthers were headed to the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.

The Panthers (6-9) began this season with a 6-2 record and appeared to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender with quarterback Cam Newton playing, in his own words, the best football of his career.

A blowout loss in Tepper’s hometown of Pittsburgh, however, started a seven-game losing streak. During that span, Newton’s right shoulder, which was surgically repaired during the 2017 offseason, became so sore and weak that he was shut down for the final two games.

If the Panthers lose to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, they will become the first team since the league expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978 to go from 6-2 to 6-10.

“I’m disappointed. I truly am disappointed,” Rivera said of how this season has gone. “The hard part about it is [that] losing is truly disappointing, but sometimes you feel like you let some people down. That’s probably one of the things I’ve struggled with, knowing that I think we’re better than our record says. But at the end of the day, you are what your record is.”

Five of the seven losses during this streak came by a touchdown or less, including a 12-9 setback to the Saints two weeks ago.

“That’s been the hardest pill for me to swallow,” Rivera said. “We had some opportunities. We had some chances. Games were in our grasp, but unfortunately we didn’t do it. That’s the hard thing for me to accept.”

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