CHARLOTTE, N.C. – DeMarcus Lawrence wasn't trying to hear about moral victories.
He certainly could have, had he wanted to. On a trying afternoon, the Cowboys' defense held Carolina to 293 total yards and just 16 points.
Lawrence himself was outstanding, posting a stat line of seven tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery. It was the type of outing that got him to the Pro Bowl last year, and earned him a $17 million franchise tag.
But Lawrence didn't want to talk about it.
"No comment – because we ain't won the game," he said. "Plays don't matter if you don't win. Sacks don't add up if you don't win. It don't matter. I don't play just to get sacks, I play to win. That's how I feel."
That was the theme from a dejected locker room. The Cowboys' defense played a pretty admirable game, holding Cam Newton and the Panthers offense to two touchdowns and a 40 percent success rate in the red zone.
They even got better after halftime. Bolstered by Newton's mobility, the Panthers went into the break with a 10-0 lead and 209 yards of offense. They managed just 84 yards after halftime, thanks largely to a Dallas defense that made plays when it had to – namely, third-down sacks from Maliek Collins and Lawrence.
"Even though we was tired and getting banged up, you know, we kept our composure and kept fighting," Lawrence said. "We've got to get better off that and become a complete defense."
Of course, there is always room for improvement. The Panthers ran for 147 yards on the day, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt. They gashed the Cowboys in the red zone on their first touchdown of the day, running the ball three-straight times for 22 yards and a touchdown.
Perhaps what was most surprising was the Cowboys' penchant for missed tackles, as Christian McCaffrey and C.J. Anderson slipped loose from Dallas defenders on several occasions.
"I usually tackle well and I work on it every day in practice. I just did not get it done," said Sean Lee ."I am going to have to get better this week. That is unacceptable tackling I did today."
And, although the Cowboys did harry Newton plenty, sacking him three times and hitting him another four, they couldn't quite do enough. Newton had a pedestrian day from the pocket, but his 13 carries for 58 yards were big – including a 12-yard run on a crucial 3rd-and-1 and his four-yard touchdown.
"We needed more sacks. We need more pressure on him. We put pressure on him, but it's not enough in a tight game like that," Lawrence said.
The demoralizing nature of the loss leaves many wondering: where do the Cowboys go from here. Lawrence wasn't one for the big picture, noting that his team has 15 more games to play and endless opportunities to improve.
To hear it from Lawrence, the Cowboys intend to do just that – phrasing it as only he could.
"We played a hell of a game – it's a hard game, a hard-fought game. First one of the season," he said. "We can't do nothing but get better from here. When you already down, there's only one way up, right? I ain't tripping."