SANTA CLARA, Calif. — A dejected Cam Newton sat slouching behind the podium on Sunday night, wearing a black Panthers hoodie and a frown.
The league's top player this season didn't feel much like answering questions, doing so mostly in delayed one- and two-word answers. Some questions he just let pass without answering at all — except for one which said it all.
"They made more plays than us and that's what it comes down to," Newton said during a brief three-minute interview following Carolina's 24-10 Super Bowl loss to Denver. "We had our opportunities and it was nothing special that they did. We dropped balls. We turned the ball over. We gave up sacks. We threw errant passes. That's it."
Newton's dream season ended with a nightmare performance.
Fresh off being earning his first MVP award on Saturday night, the Panthers fifth-year quarterback was stymied by an aggressive Denver Broncos defense in his first Super Bowl appearance on Sunday.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback who scored 45 touchdowns during the regular season — and five more in the playoffs — failed to produce a TD running or throwing for the first time this season and the Panthers lost in Super Bowl 50. Carolina's only score came on a 1-yard run by Jonathan Stewart.
Newton didn't get a chance to give any balls away to kids on the front row of Levi's Stadium.
"This is one those things that is going to hurt," Rivera said of Newton. "It's going to hurt everybody for a while and hopefully after a few days we will get over it."
Newton has failed to score a TD eight times in his career, but none since Oct. 26, 2014.
He didn't get much help: Newton didn't get much help from his offensive line which allowed a Super Bowl record-tying seven sacks, or his wide receivers, who dropped big passes at key times.
Newton spent much of the game under heavy duress as the Panthers were unable to handle the pressure of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware on the edges. Miller had 2 1/2 sacks, including two strip-sacks against overmatched right tackle Mike Remmers that led to Denver's two touchdowns.
"I don't think we played well around him," tight end Greg Olsen. "It was us not getting open, not catching balls that were tight but we have to come down with, we need to do a better job in the run game. This can't turn into the what-happened-to-Cam-Newton show."
Denver's first touchdown came when Miller blew past Remmers and ripped the ball out of Newton's grasp. Malik Jackson recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown to put the Panthers in an early 10-0 hole they could never dig out of.
Later, Miller beat Remmers for another strip sack and the Broncos put the game away with a touchdown and two-point conversion.
"I knew he was going to be really quick," Remmers said. "I knew he was going to be a tremendous athlete and it was going to be a big challenge."
Newton never looked comfortable in the pocket, side-arming throws, overthrowing wide receivers and generally running for his life.
Frustration sets in: Eventually frustration began to set it.
With Carolina trailing by six late in the fourth quarter, Miller broke through again and knocked the ball fromNewton's hands. With the ball rolling on the turf, Newton opted not to dive in the pile and the Broncos recovered at the Panthers 4 to set up C.J. Anderson's clinching TD run.
With less than three minutes remaining, Newton was knocked down in the end zone and screamed at an official looking for a late hit but didn't get one.
The question surrounding the Panthers all year long was whether their wide receivers would be good enough for Newton after Kelvin Benjamin went down with a season-ending knee injury in training camp.
Carolina still managed to finish No. 1 in the league in scoring this season, putting up 500 points in the regular season and 80 more in the postseason.
But a key drop by Jerricho Cotchery early came two plays before Newton's first fumble. Ted Ginn Jr. also had a ball go through his hands and into the awaiting arms of T.J. Ward for an interception that denied Carolina a scoring opportunity.
The Broncos neutralized Olsen and the Panthers lost Philly Brown to a concussion in the second half rendering their offense useless.
The Panthers could never establish a running game with Jonathan Stewart held to 29 yards on 12 carries and one touchdown run while battling through a foot injury.
Newton managed one moment of hope, saying "We will be back."