Most days when you allow the opponent to hold the ball all day and win, it's hard to find the good in a defensive effort.
But the Carolina Panthers' defense did everything possible to leave the Louisiana Superdome with a positive feeling about themselves.
"You look at the other games this year, and you say 'Hey, we made too many mistakes to win,'" Panthers linebacker Jon Beason said. "That's not the case this week. This one feels like it's not even fair."
Fair is relative, as the Panthers are 0-4 for a lot of reasons, most of them self-inflicted. But the job they did on the New Orleans Saints Sunday was nothing short of admirable.
They allowed the Saints 383 yards, 27 first downs and nearly two-thirds of the game in time of possession (38 minutes and 22 seconds). With those kinds of numbers, you expect something worse than the 16-14 loss the Panthers absorbed.
But the job the Panthers did was solid, allowing the Saints a single touchdown, and making enough red-zone stops to limit them to three field goals otherwise. On any other day, they'd have been celebrating, but were left looking for object lessons.
"We played, but we didn't reap the benefits of the way we played today," Panthers defensive end Everette Brown said. "It's one of those games, the effort, you want to put it in a jar and say this is what it's going to take week-in and week-out, and you build off it. Nothing less.
"That's the kind of defense we have to play from here on out."
If they do that against most other teams, they should be fine. After losing here a year ago on a small number of big plays, the Panthers were content to let the Saints make a large number of small ones this time.
Drew Brees threw for 275 yards, but he needed 48 pass attempts to do so (5.7 yards per attempt). And while the Saints rushed for 121 yards with their third and fourth options at running back (Ladell Betts and Chris Ivory, for the injured Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas), it wasn't as if they dominated on the ground.
Mostly, the Saints kept the clock and chains moving a little at a time, as the Panthers elected to not pressure as much, and keep everything in front of them. "We had good pressure when we brought it," Brown said. "We were able to create some sacks."
There was no better example of the good news-bad news nature of the day than the Saints' last extended possession. Trailing 14-13 early in the fourth, the Saints embarked on an 18-play, 86-yard drive that took 9:25 off the clock. They got the game-winning field goal, but the Panthers held them to a three-pointer.
The Panthers continued to make impact plays, with James Anderson recovering a pair of fumbles.
Beason pointed to their 8-of-14 third-down conversions allowed (57 percent) as "pretty bad," but was able to find positives despite their desperate situation as a whole.
"Mentally I think this game is beneficial," the captain said. "We're playing the Super Bowl champs at their place, against all the odds, they're one play away from being undefeated. After a game like this, you feel like you can play with anybody.
"I think that's encouraging."