DENVER – When Graham Gano put his 50-yard field goal through the uprights, it was easy to imagine the jubilant feeling about to envelope the visiting locker room.
But moments later, the anticipated sounds of sheer joy were ripped away and replaced by deafening silence – save for one voice.
Gano's field goal didn't count because the Denver Broncos had called timeout just before he unleashed it, and his subsequent kick sailed left to leave the Panthers one point short in their much-anticipated season opener.
Thursday's 21-20 loss is the kind that can linger, the kind that coaches and players alike must manage to move on from sooner rather than later. In the midst of an understandably devastated locker room, wide receiver Philly Brown managed to move forward quicker than imaginable.
"Heads up," Brown simply said as he walked toward his locker, seeming to already see the bright future ahead for this team even in the midst of palatable disappointment.
"It's unfortunate that the outcome was what it was, but you can see it. We've got a great team," Brown later said. "We were the better team out there. We just made the little mistakes that cost us.
"It's Week 1 of a long NFL season. You can't let one game determine our season. It's not like we just lost a playoff game. I mean, it hurts that we lost, but we have to move on."
Had the Panthers lost in such dramatic fashion in one of the NFL's most hostile environments in, say, Week 9, it wouldn't have been viewed quite the same. This was a historic Super Bowl rematch to start the season, a chance - said football folks outside the locker room - for the Panthers to slay some of the demons surrounding their Super Bowl 50 setback seven months ago.
Inside the locker room, of course the Panthers wanted the same thing, but they wanted it for other reasons at least as much. Broncos or no Broncos, the Panthers wanted to set a winning tone for a new year full of promise. And in the simplest of terms, they wanted to be rewarded on a big stage for tireless, thankless months of work that all led up to a chance to finally play a football game for real.
"It's tough. We work hard, we train hard, but sometimes it's not the outcome you want. That's just the nature of it," center Ryan Kalil said. "That's football. There are no bad teams in the NFL; there are only better ones.
"That was a really good football team we played. There's a reason why they're the defending champs, and this is a tough place to play. I thought we played well for the most part and gave ourselves a chance to win, but we didn't."
No one of the planet hates to lose any more than the guy taking snaps from Kalil, and quarterback Cam Newton hated how things went down Thursday. At the same time, he won't be down for long.
"The optimism of it all is that it's just the first game of the year," Newton said. "We've got 15 to go.
"It's only a matter of time before the tide turns."
A year ago, the Panthers were the class of the NFC. Yet on a late-season Sunday, they traveled to the Georgia Dome and came up short against an Atlanta team that soon would watch from home as Carolina carved its way through the playoffs.
This loss, by comparison, was what some would call a "good loss" – although any true competitor will say there is no such thing. Good can, however, come from a loss.
"Obviously there's a lot of tape we can learn from," Kalil said. "The thing I love about this football team is that it's a mature group, a group that can look at the tape, figure out what we can get better at and move onto the next game."
Big picture, the tape will reveal surprising struggles stopping the run on defense and a second half on offense with "stagnant" stretches to use Newton's word. But the tape will also feature moments from Newton that remind everyone why he was league MVP last year and why he could repeat, as well as signs that the defense is ready to make a run at leading the league in takeaways again.
"It's one game," tight end Greg Olsen said. "Obviously our only goal that isn't on the table is that we can't win them all."