Three and out: Panthers 41, Saints 38 _lowres

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) greet each other after an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015. The Panthers won 41-38. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

1 WHAT WE LEARNED

The Saints are still searching for a complementary effort. Those type of games haven’t come often this season. If New Orleans’ offense could have gotten going early, or the defense could have gotten some more stops in the second half, we’d be talking about how this team upset the undefeated Panthers and could build on this going forward. Instead, it’s another disappointing loss. Perhaps this outcome should be considered OK. The Saints took the best team in the NFL to the wire and nearly won. That’s something. It’s not good enough, nor should be acceptable, but it’s something.

2 TRENDING NOW

Let’s get this out of the way first: Brandon Browner should never be stuck covering Ted Ginn without safety help. Still, that doesn’t exonerate him from this performance. It was poor. He was beaten too often and flagged too many times. Simply put: He has to be better. The unfortunate thing is this team doesn’t really have any other options. If you take him off the field, that means someone like Chris Owens or Brian Dixon has to come on, and they haven’t been much better. It feels like it can’t keep going on like this, but without any other real options, there really isn’t a way out of it.

3 FINAL THOUGHTS

There are four more games left, and fans will likely find themselves in an awkward position. While New Orleans hasn’t technically been eliminated from playoff contention, those hopes are over. Now you have to decide whether you cheer for wins, which will be good only for moral victories, or cheer against this team and hope for a better draft spot. The second option, in terms of the overall health of the franchise, is probably the better long-term outcome. Losing means a better pick. But it will mean enduring more short-term misery.

— Nick Underhill