The Carolina Panthers – minus their former Pro Bowl cornerback – gathered at Bank of America Stadium Monday morning for their first team workout since their Super Bowl loss in February.
The jolting departure of Josh Norman was still fresh in players’ minds, and veteran linebacker Thomas Davis admitted it was disappointing the Panthers couldn’t work out a deal to keep one of the league’s best corners in Charlotte.
While Norman was being introduced at a press conference Monday in Washington, his former teammates were taking the first baby steps toward defending their NFC title. If the Panthers hope to make it back to the Super Bowl next February in Houston, tight end Greg Olsen said, they need to set the right tone during the voluntary offseason workouts that can be drudgery for an established team.
“The second you think you’ve arrived, the second you think you’ve got it, you’re done,” Olsen said. “I’ve seen that play out on an individual basis my whole career, and I don’t want to see that happen to us this year collectively as a team. I don’t think it will. I haven’t seen signs of it. ... Overconfident and thinking you’ve arrived has ruined a lot of careers in the NFL.”
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The last time the team was together, players were going through exit physicals and final meetings with coaches two days after the 24-10 loss to Denver in Super Bowl 50.
Davis has watched “bits and pieces” of the game but has no plans to view it in its entirety.
“I lived it so I don’t need to watch it again,” Davis said.
Olsen said going through a memorable season like the Panthers did in 2015 only to lose in the end is emotionally draining. The Panthers won 15 regular-season games and blew through playoff victories against Seattle and Arizona, but had to watch Peyton Manning hold the Lombardi Trophy while the confetti fell at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
“The finality of the NFL is what separates it from all other professional sports. There’s no, ‘We’ll get ‘em tomorrow.’ There’s no best-of-7s. There’s no ‘Hey, we’ve got another major down the road,’ ” Olsen said. “In the NFL it’s final. You’ve got one shot. If you don’t play well, it’s over.”
Olsen said it’s normal for players to go through a two- or three-week stretch during which they second-guess and agonize over the what-ifs of a Super Bowl defeat. But that can’t let that turn into a two- or three-month mourning period.
“At some point you’ve just got to turn the page,” he said. “You always hear about the Super Bowl hangover. That’s real. Teams that lose the Super Bowl struggle. History shows. You have to fight that. You have to fight human nature. You just have to continue to move forward and prepare like nothing ever happened.”
Super Bowl losers are trying to work off a 23-year hangover.
The 1993 Buffalo Bills were the last team to make it back to the Super Bowl after having lost in it the previous season. Those Jim Kelly-led Bills teams were good at making it back to the Super Bowl, but lost four consecutive years.
Olsen joined the Chicago Bears as a rookie in 2007, a year after the Bears lost to Indianapolis in the Super Bowl. Olsen figured he was hooking on with a team on the rise.
“I was drafted, came in thinking this is going to be great. We’re just going to find ourselves back in the same position. Why not? Same quarterback, same defense, same everything,” Olsen said. “And we didn’t make the playoffs. So that’s reality. We’ve got to understand that you’re not entitled to anything in this game. They don’t just (say) the Panthers had a great year last year, let’s just pencil them in. That’s not how this game works.”
An offseason jolt
The Panthers were in the midst of a quiet offseason until last week.
Jared Allen retired and a couple of other older players were not brought back. Charles Johnson was gone for a couple of days and then re-signed. A few backups were added.
But the core of the defending NFC champs was returning intact. And then the Norman bombshell went off.
After the Panthers placed the franchise tag on Norman on March 1, Davis said players believed they’d have Norman back for at least one more year.
But Norman never signed the tag, general manager Dave Gettleman rescinded it and Norman is now in Washington on a five-year, $75 million deal that blew away the Panthers’ four-year, $44 million offer.
“It was strange,” Davis said. “It was one of those things that once you see the franchise tag being placed on a guy, you just know in your mind that you have that guy for at least that one year. But the way things played out and the way Mr. Gettleman talks about it, (he) didn’t feel it was going to be something that could be worked out long-term. He made the best move that it was in the best interest for the organization and for our team.”
Norman said during his press conference Monday he was fired up to be playing in the NFC East and made a reference to the “golden age” of football.
This has been a golden period for the Panthers – an unprecedented three consecutive division crowns, an NFC-record 18-game winning streak that was snapped in December in Atlanta, and the franchise’s second Super Bowl berth.
Good teams overcome the losses of good players, and Davis likes the additions of nose tackle Paul Soliai and nickel corner Brandon Boykin and the return of wideout Kelvin Benjamin from ACL surgery.
Even with Norman, making a return trip to the Super Bowl was going to be tough.
“We start from ground zero,” Davis said. “Just because we made it to the Super Bowl last year doesn’t mean we’re going to come in and be the NFC favorites to go back. We know we have to put the work in.”