BOCA RATON, Fla. – At one point, head coach Ron Rivera looked up from his seat at the NFC coaches' breakfast at the Annual Meeting and marveled at the number of reporters and cameras that had suddenly shown up.
"This is made for television," Rivera said with a laugh. "Look at all the people that are here!"
Rivera was in the midst of an attention-grabbing, passionate debate with members of the media. In light of quarterback Cam Newton's widely discussed press conference following defeat in Super Bowl 50, Rivera shared his take on how he feels that situation should be handled in the future.
"What we ask players to do after a game like that is tremendously unfair. I really do mean that, too," Rivera said. "In a situation like that, there is only one person that needs to talk, and that's the head coach. Let him handle the situation and answer the questions. If not, that's what you are going to get. That's unfortunate, but that's the truth."
Rivera hasn't shared this opinion with the league and doesn't have plans to. This is simply how he feels, and he recognizes the media obligations that come with the territory.
"I get it. I understand how important it is for everybody to see this and hear this after the game and get the raw emotion. I get that," Rivera explained. "But I also think we also need to understand and show appreciation that that's hard. It's a difficult thing to get up and do."
More than anything, Rivera wants people to acknowledge the difficulty of suffering Super Bowl defeat and be more accepting of the different emotional responses players will have to such disappointment.
"Understand you are going to get some raw emotions. If that's what we want, then I don't know if we should be critical of the young man," Rivera said of Newton. "Everybody wanted to talk about other things instead of saying, 'Wow, he truly is disappointed. Man, he really wanted to win.' Remember, this is the pinnacle of what we do.
"It wasn't what people wanted. But I'm not sure we needed to pile on."
Rivera is not at all concerned about Newton going forward. And he believes the reigning NFL MVP will be motivated by everything that took place in Santa Clara.
"That bitter taste will motivate him, it will drive him," Rivera said. "To me, the thing that's most important is that he improves as a football player like he has."
LESSONS LEARNED FROM SUPER BOWL: If Rivera leads his team back to the Super Bowl, Rivera said there would be some changes to the lead-up.
"I know this, my approach is going to be different," he said. "I think it was a good, valuable learning lesson. We've taken some things away from what happened. I hope to get the opportunity to go back because I think I've got a better feel for it."
After the season, Rivera said he met with the team captains and their wives for dinner. Among the topics discussed was curfew during Super Bowl week, something everyone agreed could be handled differently.
"Curfew was kind of self-imposed (by the captains), and I went along with it," Rivera said. "The truth of the matter is, they felt we were a little more strict than we needed to be. We could have let them relax a little more."
But having been there and done it gives Rivera and the captains, particularly All-Pro center Ryan Kalil, confidence entering the 2016 season.
"Ryan Kalil is a savvy veteran and he understands. He wants it," Rivera said. "I most certainly know that he is going to try to get the guys back to where they need to be.
"He said, 'You know what, now we know.'"
BIG YEAR IN STORE FOR BENJAMIN: Does Rivera think Kelvin Benjamin can be one of the NFL's elite wide receivers in 2016?
"Oh yeah, without a doubt."
The former first-round pick who posted 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie missed all of last season with a torn ACL. But with rehab moving along well, Rivera fully expects Benjamin to have a major impact when he returns.
The key for Carolina and its top-ranked offense is building off the successful "spread the ball around" formula while adding a star, No.1 wideout back into the equation.
"We don't want to get to that point again where it's Kelvin with 15 catches and everybody else one or two," Rivera said. "What happened this year with the development of our offense was the ball was spread, and that truly helped us. Kelvin is another piece to the puzzle. He'll become a primary and take some of that burden off of Greg (Olsen)."