CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers tried to give this one away.
Bless their hearts, they did their best.
Ultimately, the San Francisco 49ers refused to accept it, and the Panthers left Bank of America Stadium grateful for the first time in more than a year.
"This wasn't just a monkey," Panthers coach John Fox said. "This was King Kong."
The Panthers won their first home game of the season Sunday, a 31-14 decision over the 49ers that did many things, almost all of them good.
In fact, you'd have to be a true pessimist (or worse) to ponder the draft position lost, as there was nothing but glee in the locker room after this one.
It saw them score their most points of the season, a downpour to end the drought. It saw them break a five-game losing streak, along with a seven-gamer at home dating back to last year, giving them their first win at Bank of America Stadium in 378 days.
And they did it all despite playing a team worse than they were in both record (3-9) and every significant offensive stat.
"We know San Fran is not one of the better teams in the NFL, but we don't care who it's against," Panthers cornerback Ken Lucas said. "When you've been struggling at home for more than a year, it doesn't matter who you get the win against."
Still, Lord knows, it wasn't easy.
The Panthers built their biggest lead of the year in the first half, a 17-0 edge, only to give all but a field goal of it away in six minutes and 31 seconds. They were active participants in their own near-demise, throwing an interception and going three-and-out twice to give the 49ers an opportunity to take the game back.
But that's when the lightning struck, when the kind of play that's gone the other direction finally fell on their side.
San Francisco punt returner Michael Lewis dropped back for the catch, but with Panthers safety Quinton Teal in his face, he muffed the catch. That's when rookie tight end Dante Rosario (who earlier made his first career catch for a touchdown), jumped on the loose ball at the 49ers' 11.
When DeShaun Foster leaped over the pile for a 1-yard touchdown moments later, the Panthers had reclaimed the game, but more importantly, they could exhale.
After giving so many similar games away this year, they weren't taking this one for granted, not the way their season has gone.
"When you get on a losing skid like we were on, you play so tight and you try so hard to not lose," Panthers right tackle Jordan Gross said. "Fox just said this week that we had to be loose, have fun, and play like we were playing when we were 4-2. That was the difference, I think.
"I'm proud of our team. I'm sure a lot of people were thinking that, 'Here we go again.' We got that special teams play that was huge, the play of the game, and we went back up 10. We kept fighting, and that's something we hadn't been able to do so far."
Fox -- under more fire than at any time in his tenure here -- said his biggest challenge this week was keeping things light.
After losing the worst of the skid a week ago here, an atrocious 31-6 pounding at the hands of New Orleans, Fox wanted to get his guys to smile again.
"This is not one of those streaks you're excited about," Fox said. "We finally got that monkey off our back. Sometimes we can press too hard. You saw a little bit of that in the second half. We forgot about how to have fun, and that was our mantra this week.
"I'm real happy for our fans, because they've been real patient. I'm real happy for them; this has been a long time coming for them, too."
Of course, you could say the same for the way the Panthers played.
They ran for 166 yards (on a perfect-for-Fox 44 attempts). They mixed it up offensively, using Steve Smith in ways they hadn't before, direct snapping to him, using him on reverses, pulling tricks out of the bag in need of a spark.
They also recorded six sacks -- more than half the team's 10 in 11 prior games -- and created six turnovers, including four interceptions of San Francisco quarterback Trent Dilfer. One of those went 73 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Richard Marshall. Even backup safety Marquand Manuel got into the act, getting one of the picks and a sack late, after starter Chris Harris left the game with an undisclosed injury.
In short, it was as close to a full effort as they've logged since Oct. 14 in Arizona, and it's no coincidence that's the last time they won.
"I'm very proud," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We almost played a complete game today, and that should give us confidence to play like that for the remainder of the year."
That'll be tougher, since they're playing four playoff-caliber teams down the stretch, not a dog among them.
But after what the Panthers have been through the last month and a half, they're apologizing for nothing, feeling nothing but good, even if it lasts a day.
"When you start losing, it's like a sickness," right guard Jeremy Bridges said, a relieved grin on his face. "It gets you down, and bad things come with losing. Bad feelings, bad emotions. It took a lot, to muster up the strength and courage to go out and play with emotion, to smile while you're playing, to fly around.
"But it felt so good."