Carolina quarterback Cam Newton didn’t say much after the Panthers lost Super Bowl 50, but the league’s MVP did promise this: “We’ll be back.”
But will they?
Only time will tell. The Panthers could fade into oblivion, like the 49ers did after losing the Super Bowl three years ago. Or they could bounce back, just like these Denver Broncos did after a devastating loss in the big game two years ago.
Either way, Carolina’s mettle will be tested when they report to training camp in Spartanburg, S.C., next summer.
“I told our guys, this is the same [Broncos] team that a couple of years ago got beat,” coach Ron Rivera said. “So we have an opportunity to grow and learn from this experience. So we need to learn from this experience and give ourselves an opportunity to get back here.”
The last time the Panthers lost in the Super Bowl, it took 12 years to get back.
But the pieces in Carolina seem to be in place for success over the long haul.
The Panthers had won 22 of their last 24 games and three straight NFC South championships before Sunday’s 24-10 loss to the Broncos.
General manager Dave Gettleman has a solid core that includes six first-team All-Pros — Newton, center Ryan Kalil, fullback Mike Tolbert, linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly and cornerback Josh Norman.
They have other consistent players like tight end Greg Olsen and running back Jonathan Stewart, and budding young stars such as defensive tackle Kawann Short, guard Trai Turner and defensive end Kony Ealy, who had 3½ sacks, a forced fumble and an interception in the Super Bowl.
With the exception of Norman, all are under contract next season.
“At the end of the day, we established something, we built something here,” Ealy said. “We’re not going to change it up, switch it up next year when the season starts over. We’re going to keep the same. … That’s what got us here. And our character got us here. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
Rivera, who has won NFL Coach of the Year two of the last three seasons, is back too.
And so is the highly competitive Newton who, not surprisingly, didn’t take the loss well.
The fifth-year quarterback, who sulked in his postgame press conference before walking out, appeared to get down on himself during the game as well. The Broncos took advantage, forcing four Carolina turnovers and registering seven sacks.
“Hey, when things don’t go his way, we see the body language — it’s obvious,” Broncos safety T.J. Ward said. “That’s what we wanted to do. That was our intent to come in this game and get the body language going. We didn’t want the happy, fun-spirited ‘dabbing’ Cam. No, we want the sulking, upset, talking to my linemen, my running backs, ‘I don’t know what’s going on’ Cam Newton — and that’s what we got.”
As Rivera said, things to learn from.
The Panthers (17-2) never expected to lose.
They had been the NFL’s best team all season, starting 14-0, and the highest-scoring offense in the league. Their defense was pretty stout, too, leading the league in takeaways. That’s why the loss hurt so much.
On this night, their offense got completely outplayed.
“It doesn’t feel good,” Stewart said.
“Yeah, it stings,” Kuechly said. “We accomplished a lot of what we wanted to do this year. We won the division, we won in the playoffs and we made it to the Super Bowl. We checked off a couple of boxes.”
But not the last one.
“When you look back on it we will be kicking ourselves forever because we let one get out of the gate,” safety Roman Harper said.
Now the only thing left to do is to look to next season.
“We’ve grown as a team,” Stewart said. “One thing you can really look forward to is us getting bigger, faster and strong for a few years to come.”