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Rivera takes the reins for the Panthers
Coach acknowledges immense challenge

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After eight failed interviews, Ron Rivera is finally getting his first shot as a head coach with the woeful Carolina Panthers.

Just don't expect a wild celebration despite the windy, bumpy road to get there and the significance of being just the second Latino to be handed control of an NFL team.

Rivera has too much work to do.

He showed up to his introductory news conference on Tuesday all business. The former San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator barely cracked a smile and stayed on point. It was as if he realized the immense challenge in replacing John Fox and being in charge of the NFL's worst team.

"I'm thrilled to death for the opportunity. I almost want to say relief," said Rivera, a linebacker with the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears. "When you get into playing you strive for one thing, that's to be a Super Bowl champion. When you get into coaching, you strive to be a Super Bowl-winning head coach. That's what my goal is."

Rivera inherits a 2-14 team that fizzled under the weight of inexperience, questionable personnel decisions and suspect talent. It led to a messy end of Fox's nine-year run in which he clashed with management over the club's direction.

Rivera is expected to turn it all around.

"It gives me comfort that he's a former player -- a much better player than I ever was," said Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, a former Baltimore Colts receiver.

It's the first head coaching job for the 49-year-old Rivera, a son of a U.S. Army officer who is of Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage. He joins ex-Raiders and Seahawks boss Tom Flores as the only Hispanic head coaches.

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Ravens focus on Big Ben

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Ben Roethlisberger has a knack for beating the Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens have tried just about everything to slow the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback -- even breaking his nose -- but they haven't been able to break his spirit. Roethlisberger is 8-2 as a starter against Baltimore and has won six straight since 2006.

Last month, albeit quite accidentally, Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata broke Roethlisberger's nose on the Steelers' opening series. Roethlisberger shrugged off the injury, played the entire game and threw the decisive touchdown pass in Pittsburgh's 13-10 victory.

The Steelers and Ravens meet again Saturday in the second round of the playoffs. It will be the third game of the season between the AFC North rivals, and Baltimore's hopes of winning hinge heavily upon stopping Roethlisberger.

"We're going to get after him like we always do. It's going to be really important," coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the key to stopping him: You've got to get him down. You can't let him extend plays."

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Panel cool to 18 games

WASHINGTON -- NFL union executive committee members Scott Fujita and Domonique Foxworth said concerns about injuries make the league's push to switch to an 18-game regular season a major sticking point in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Speaking Tuesday on a media conference call arranged by the union, Cleveland linebacker Fujita called the NFL's 18-game proposal "completely unacceptable."

Baltimore cornerback Foxworth said the extra regular-season games "is just going to multiply the injuries and the ailments that we're going to see after we go into our 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s."

The current CBA expires in March.

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Coaching carousel

*Perry Fewell, the New York Giants defensive coordinator who served as Buffalo's interim coach for seven games last season, interviewed on Tuesday with the Cleveland Browns, the third known candidate to formally meet with team President Mike Holmgren for the head coaching job. Fewell followed St. Louis offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.

*Another former Bills head coach, Gregg Williams, withdrew his name from consideration for the Denver Broncos' head job. Williams is New Orleans' defensive coordinator. Broncos President John Elway interviewed former Denver player and assistant Rick Dennison on Tuesday and today will meet with Fox, the former Panthers' coach.

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