FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Silver linings for the New England Patriots following their often cringe-worthy performance in a 25-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday are not easy to find. But say this: New England displayed an encouraging amount of mental toughness both in finding a way to hang around until the final whistle, and in ignoring the noise about their dismal play afterward.
Start with the bottom line: The Patriots were sloppy in all three phases of the game, whether it was an offense that never found its rhythm; a defense that rarely produced a key third-down stop; or a special teams unit that was anything but special.
But through it all, the Patriots still gave themselves a chance to win on their final possession, thanks in large part to a familiar bend-but-don't-break defense that forced Pittsburgh to settle for field goal attempts instead of touchdowns for much of the game.
At first blush, the Patriots offered little resistance to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (36-of-50 passing, 365 yards, 2 TDs). But Pittsburgh converted only two of five red-zone trips and linebacker Gary Guyton produced a timely first-half interception that led to New England's first score of the game, a much-needed touchdown after the Patriots generated a mere three first-quarter snaps and trailed 10-0 early in the second quarter.
When asked if he saw positives in film review on Monday, Patriots safety Patrick Chung found some bright spots.
"[I'm] definitely encouraged," Chung said. "We played a good game. [The Steelers] just played a better one. They had more big plays than we did. We played a good game, they played a better game, and they got the best of us."
Some will wonder if Chung is delusional. Was he truly encouraged by a defense that gave up 427 total yards, while allowing the Steelers to convert a whopping 10-of-16 third-down tries (63 percent).
Chung seemed to be focused on the fact that, amidst overwhelming struggles, the Patriots still found a way to give themselves a chance to win. Much like the team did in topping Dallas before its bye week.
The bottom line is winning and it doesn't always have to be pretty.
"Competitive game that still came down to a shot there in the last couple minutes," coach Bill Belichick said Monday, "but [we] just weren't able to make enough plays to come out of it."
While acknowledging that there was far more bad than good overall for the Patriots, here are three more things that New England can hang its hat on after Sunday's loss:
•Life and Times of A. Carter: Patriots defensive end Andre Carter continues to make the case for being the team's best defensive player this season. Fresh off a two-sack effort against the Dallas Cowboys, Carter dropped Roethlisberger twice Sunday. Carter and third-down rusher Mark Anderson each have 4.5 sacks on the season (tying them for a spot among the top 20 in the NFL). Carter has not only produced the most consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, but he's been excellent against the run, totaling five tackles Sunday.
•Adams as the nickel corner? The late-week release of Leigh Bodden thrust Antwaun Molden and Phillip Adams into the spotlight as depth corners. Molden, the former third-round pick of the Texans, struggled mightily, and Pro Football Focus coverage stats suggest he gave up four catches on five targets for 38 yards and two touchdowns. Molden was in coverage on both of Pittsburgh's first-half touchdowns as the Steelers built a 17-7 advantage. Adams took over as the nickel corner in the second half and had far more success, allowing a mere 5-yard catch on his only target of the game. Can Adams, a seventh-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers (224th overall in 2010), build off that effort? Maybe more importantly, Kyle Arrington continues to distinguish himself as a more-than-capable No. 2 corner (Sunday: 6 targets, 3 catches, 23 yards, 0 TD, only 2 yards after catch).
•Solder solid even with limited reps: The Patriots' offensive line may have had its worst week of the season, allowing three sacks. According to Pro Football Focus numbers, the Patriots gave up seven quarterback pressures, including three by left tackle Matt Light. Brian Waters got beat for his first regular-season sack since Week 5 of the 2009 season. But even as Sebastian Vollmer (back) struggled in his return to the lineup (one sack, one QB pressure), Nate Solder continued to shine in limited reps, keeping his defenders away from Tom Brady.
Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.