SANTA CLARA, Calif. — No smiles. No dabs. Just the icy silence of a defeated locker room littered with shellshocked Panthers players trying to grasp the gutting Denver put on them for 60 minutes in what would end as a crushing 24-10 Super Bowl 50 loss.
The best football team all year long and the NFL's highest-scoring offense was stunned and silent, player after player lined up in front of lockers with heads down, staring emptily into cell phones, unable to process what happened on Sunday.
The sad scene was punctuated by the brief appearance of quarterback Cam Newton at his media interview. Newton spent this season identifying himself as an icon of football and fashion, appearing after games with gold-studded shoes and foxtails attached to his pants. There was nothing garish about the downtrodden MVP, who spent less than three minutes talking with the press, mostly in short, clipped answers before walking off.
The amount of vitriol involved in the discussion of Cam's post game behavior was incredulous, but it's nothing new for the league's most polarizing player. Newton is a different dude, and his out-of-the-box personality is usually a very welcome change for a buttoned-up generation of quarterbacks (one ironically created by watching Peyton Manning for so many years).
Here's a fact, though: Newton didn't do himself any favors by sulking away from the throng of cameras. It's not about doing his duty in front of the media. It's about the way you're perceived as a leader to the public and to the locker room. The Panthers take their cue from Cam.
None of what happened makes Newton a bad human or a selfish jerk or an immature person. Just like the Panthers, he had a really bad day and it affected his reaction.
A debate about the merits of leadership is going to end in a lot of asinine sports shouting -- but the reality is there is a gulf-like dichotomy between Newton's reaction to rolling up a team in a win and the sulking Super Bowl quarterback we saw on the podium. And don't come screaming about this take, either -- Cam got plenty of praise for his maturity in this spot just a few weeks ago.
All of the high-energy antics Carolina was known for this season emanated from Newton's on-field behavior. Dancing and celebrating when you win is fun, and it's entertaining and was enjoyable to watch all season long. If you didn't want Newton and the Panthers to dance, well, stop them from scoring. It's what they told everyone.
On Sunday they were stopped in their tracks, with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware spending the evening in Cam's kitchen, treating Mike Remmers and Michael Oher like turnstiles. They hit Cam over and over and over and then hit him some more. They tip-toed the line between aggression and dirty play perfectly, covering Cam's jersey in shoddy Levi's Stadium turf and forcing him into a position where he was forced to carry the load on offense by himself.
Carolina's 2015 season was marked by a high-octane offense and mistake-free football. Sunday was marred by Carolina repeatedly shooting itself in the foot. They were a better offensive team in almost every statistical category Sunday.
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But the Panthers were a sloppy team.
"They're a great defense. So I'm going to give credit to them, but us as an offense, we can't do things," fullback Mike Tolbert said. "We can't turn over the ball. We can't give up the sacks. We can't fumble. We can't kill ourselves with penalties. That's the thing -- that's the story of our offense tonight and unfortunately, we picked the worst time to do it."
From the get go Carolina looked lost, borderline overwhelmed by the stage. Newton came out of the gate missing badly on his throws and his line unable to Miller out of the backfield.
The Panthers mustered just 28 total yards in the first quarter while going 0 for 4 on third down. Carolina's drives in the first half? Punt, fumble, punt, touchdown, punt, fumble, punt.
There were times when Carolina looked like it was generating some momentum, picking up chunks of yardage and starting to get its offense into rhythm. Denver wasn't going to run away and put up a pile of points. All the Panthers needed was to quit making mistakes and execute their offense.
"We picked a really bad day to kind of have a meltdown," tight end Greg Olsen said. "When we were on we were moving the ball, we had some things going. We had a couple big plays that sparked us, and then it just seemed whenever we had something going … critical error, penalties, drops -- obviously the turnovers were huge.
"Not even the turnovers, but just that [they happened at] inopportune times."
Cam's first fumble resulted in a Broncos touchdown. The Panthers blew punt coverage on Jordan Norwood when he didn't call a fair catch and generated the longest punt return in Super Bowl history (61 yards). Tolbert coughed up the ball on the very next possession.
There were more false starts and blocks in the back for Carolina than there are hippies in Haight-Ashbury.
The Panthers finished the game with more penalties (12) than points (10). Carolina produced more penalty yardage (102) than they allowed rushing yards to the Broncos (90).
It was a team playing with a little bit of tight-butt syndrome again, except they weren't sitting on a 31-point lead in front of a home crowd.
"They just played better than us. I don't know what you want me to say," Newton said in his one lengthy answer of the short session. "They made more plays than us and that's what it comes down to. We had our opportunities. We dropped balls, we turned the ball over, gave up sacks, errant passes. That's it. They scored more points than us."
The end of the game was just sad. Ron Rivera punted down 14 with two minutes left in the Super Bowl, waving a white flag on a fourth-and-24 and one last shot at trying to make some magic happen.
Maybe he saw Newton not dive on a fumble and realized where his team's mindset was. The Broncos sure did.
"That's the way he is," Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan said. "Playing for himself."
Losing the Super Bowl doesn't diminish what the Panthers did. It doesn't tarnish an incredible season from Newton. The Panthers had two bad days all year, and the second one just happened to come at a really inopportune time.
Maybe Newton's brief comments were spot on after all.
"We got outplayed. We got outplayed, bro."