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Carolina Panthers

Game Preview: Panthers at Broncos

CHARLOTTE - It might feel like a seven-year itch, but it's actually been seven months.

After all the winning and reasons to smile throughout the 2015 season, it came crashing down with a crushing defeat on arguably the biggest stage in all of sports.

Now, for the first time since falling short of their ultimate goal in Super Bowl 50 against the Denver Broncos, the Carolina Panthers begin pursuit of that same goal all over again.

It just happens to begin as it ended – against the Broncos.

"The past is the past. We have a whole new season to look forward to," tight end Greg Olsen said. "The more we try to hinge on correcting what happened in the Super Bowl, the more we are going to keep getting pulled back. We've got to move forward.

"It's the first game on our schedule. They are a lot of things going into it, but nothing that really concerns us. The hoopla, the pregame stuff isn't really too much of a concern. We're trying to win one game. It just so happens that we're playing them. This is not the Super Bowl. This is not revenge for the Super Bowl. That's not our focus. We're just trying to win a game. It just happens to be the same team."

This marks the first time in league history that the NFL season has kicked off with a matchup of the previous year's Super Bowl participants, but the Panthers are more interested in making a different kind of history – a pursuit they hope to jumpstart with a good start regardless of the opponent.

The last time a team returned to the Super Bowl the year after losing in the game was 1993, when the Buffalo Bills made their fourth consecutive appearance.

"The important part for us is starting off 2016 on the right note," safety Kurt Coleman said. "We prepared very hard throughout OTAs, minicamp, training camp and the preseason to build up this point.

"This sting of the Super Bowl is never going to go away, and that's OK. It's not about revenge. This is about the 2016 Panthers."

The Panthers are again adopting quarterback Cam Newton's mantra from last season of trying to finish each week 1-0, an approach that helped Carolina end up 15-1 in the regular season and helped Newton become the first Panthers player to be named Most Valuable Player.

Still, human nature dictates that at least at some point Thursday, every player that was on the field for Super Bowl 50 will at least have images of that night flash through their minds.

Some more than others.

"I'm still, as they say, salty about the Super Bowl. But I know that it's in the past and we have to move on," fullback Mike Tolbert said. "It gives us that chip on our shoulder that we need. That's the team that held us back from the ultimate dream.

"We'll be ready to go. Trust me."

At the same time, Tolbert said he's excited about hitting someone other than linebacker Luke Kuechly.

The feeling, of course, is mutual.

"We're super excited," Kuechly said. "This is what you do all the work in the offseason for, all the OTAs and all of training camp, for the opportunity to go out and start the regular season.

"We've got a great opportunity to play a great team in the first game of season."

Denver's performance in Super Bowl 50 earned the Broncos the right to celebrate a championship, which they plan to do in conjunction with Thursday's game. The Panthers didn't produce the type of performance in the Super Bowl that they did in almost every other game last season, so Thursday is their first chance – regardless of the opponent – to reestablish their winning brand of football.

"Good defenses force you into bad plays, but at the same time, we did a lot of things that were uncharacteristic. Drops, missed assignments, turnovers – you can go right down the list," Olsen said. "That day it all snowballed on us and we never got much going.

"It's a great challenge for us. We've got to be on the top of our game."


View game action photos from Carolina's 24-10 loss to Denver in Super Bowl 50.