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The 2015 NFL season did not end the way that Luke Kuechly and the Carolina Panthers would have liked.
After going 15-1 and storming through the NFC playoffs, the Panthers and their All-Pro linebacker came up short in Super Bowl 50, losing to the Denver Broncos.
According to Kuechly, who was named to his third straight Pro Bowl and All-Pro first team last year, the process of coming back after a Super Bowl loss is just like any other year.
“You’ve got to start from the bottom level,” Kuechly told Business Insider. “From the offseason training and transitioning fom there to training camp, you start from the ground floor and work your way up.”
Kuechly also emphasized that while the Panthers may have made the Super Bowl and been only the seventh team in NFL history to win 15 or more games in a regular season, none of that matters when the 2016 season begins.
“What’s in the past is in the past, you can learn from it, good and bad,” said Kuechly.
“But, you know when you get to [training camp] and you get to the first game it comes down to what have you done for me lately?”
The other worry for the Panthers is the “Super Bowl hangover.” 12 Super Bowl losers have missed the playoffs the following year, 17 have lost in their first playoff game, and no team has made the Super Bowl after a loss the previous year since the Buffalo Bills in 1993.
Part of this is that teams lose some of the players that helped make them successful. For the Panthers key players from the Super Bowl 50 squad are not returning – including All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, who left in free agency to the Redskins, and cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman, who retired.
The “hangover” and the departures don’t bother Kuechly.
“You remove certain guys from a team that were really beneficial – Josh was great last year, Peanut was great, those guys were great and we’re going to miss them – but the whole trend of the NFL is how can you move on from that,” Kuechly told Business Insider.
“You look at the last few years with our team: Cam [Newton] missed a game [back-up quarterback] Derek Anderson plays great, [center] Ryan Kalil misses a game and we have a guy step up and play great, I missed three games and AJ [Klein] was a stud. Our mentality is that the next man up needs to play well. So Josh left, Peanut left, we’re going to miss those guys but we’ve got other guys to step up and fill those roles.”
So even with key pieces departing, Kuechly said as long as the Panthers stick to their plan and mantra the rest will work itself out.
“Our approach last year worked and our approach last year was just to start from the bottom and every day is a brick in your foundation,” concluded Kuechly.
“It’s what [Head Coach Ron] Rivera talks about every day and what we talk about every day, you can’t miss a day to get better because someone else isn’t.”