ATLANTA -- Where was that voice coming from? Why was anyone talking? This was getting uncomfortable. And it was making things awkward, maybe even more awkward than a locker room of 52 other grown men getting dressed in total, stunned silence.
"It's not the end of the world," Harper told NFL.com. "I've been here before."
Oh, right. Perspective.
There's no such thing as a bittersweet Super Bowl celebration. The Lombardi Trophy still weighs seven pounds, and it is still 22 inches long, whether it is presented to a team with seven losses or one loss or none.
While Cam Newton absorbed Sunday's defeat by sitting at his locker for more than 45 minutes, most of which he spent with a towel over his head, Harper seemed more capable of maintaining focus on the bigger picture. And that's not a knock on the 26-year-old Newton. The 33-year-old Harper merely has the benefit of life experience.
How's that for a stat?
You see how this works? Six years ago, after that first New Orleans loss, it surely would have been tough to convince Harper that any statistic other than 13-1 mattered to his season's fate. Now, he's actually using those losses as an example of perseverance.
There is no question, it would have been badass for the Panthers to go undefeated, to potentially join the 1972 Dolphins as the only Super Bowl champs to go wire to wire without a loss. But there's a reason only one team has done it: It's hard as hell. Carolina coach Ron Rivera learned as much as a member of the 1985 Chicago Bears, who won it all after going 15-1. Harper learned as much in 2009. And now, Newton has learned it, too.
That doesn't take away two key facts about the Panthers' current state: They will go down in history as the first NFC team to start a season 14-0. And everything, aside from the one-time undefeated campaign, remains intact for them.
"It's a great learning experience," Harper said. "This was a playoff atmosphere. Let's be honest, this isn't meant as disrespect, but this was a huge game for the Falcons. This was their chance to validate themselves."
Harper's perspective isn't only healthy -- it is precise.
Guess what else? The '09 Saints lost that next game against Tampa Bay. And the criticism grew louder about a possible anticlimactic close to their season.
Yes, it is possible this could be Carolina's fate, as well. But that's where the Panthers need to keep these similarities from continuing.
"We have our ticket punched into the playoffs, which is most important," Harper said. "And we have that first-round bye. But we still need to get home-field advantage. That needs to be our focus right now."
And that is what is most important.
No question, the looks on the faces of the Panthers' players and coaches on Sunday were to be expected. The disappointment was a reasonable emotion. Sunday saw some potentially great storylines -- like offensive coordinator Mike Shula potentially joining his father, Don, in the very elite Undefeated Club -- fall apart.
So it is time for the Panthers to put this game behind them, to learn from it and grow from it and restore any sense of urgency that was lost on this magical run, which had seen them go more than a year without experiencing the feeling of a regular-season defeat.
Carolina got to this point by playing with grit and toughness and swagger like few teams we've seen before them. Regardless of what the critics wanted to say on Sunday, the Panthers don't need to be humbled or play any differently than they have to date. Must we remind those critics that Carolina is 14-1, still the NFL's best record?
But that doesn't mean they need to cancel the parade just yet.