Progress of sorts but England remain in flux
England manager Martin Johnson was in no doubt. Despite scoring a solitary try and tasting defeat in two of their three matches, England have made progress in this autumn series.
"Although maybe it doesn't seem so to some people, we are certainly making strides forward," he insisted, almost daring his inquisitors to contradict him.
Statistically he is right. A year ago, England lost 32-6 to the All Blacks, so halving the losing deficit to 19-6 on Saturday was progress of sorts.
As the only Englishman to have tasted victory over New Zealand three times, Johnson knows that such claims have to be put into some perspective, however.
After what he admitted had been a tough week for players and coaches after the turgid display against Argentina, the irony of a morale-boosting defeat, if that is how Saturday's events at Twickenham can be couched, was not lost on the manager.
"We won last week, we lost this week. Everyone seems to be happier when we are losing," he noted.
Certainly the crowd were appreciative of a combative England effort, which ensured they remained in the game for the best part of an hour before Jimmy Cowan's solitary try settled the outcome.
After the booing that greeted them at half-time against the Pumas last week, the rousing chorus of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" during a stoppage in play with seven minutes left at least showed the Barboured brigade were back on side.
But when a 13-point deficit, and an eighth consecutive defeat, by the All Blacks is cause for some kind of cheer, surely it only highlights how far English rugby's stock has fallen.
Johnson's men competed well up front, scrambled well in defence and maintained their energy levels for the full 80 minutes against a side that has not conceded a try now in their last seven Tests on European soil.
But despite becoming embroiled in a close contest, ultimately New Zealand still won with something to spare, even if they were frustrated in their attempts to give their attacking talents full rein.
They might reflect that had not Daniel Carter inexplicably missed two first-half penalties he would normally have slotted in his sleep, or the superb Mils Muliaina been foiled in the left corner by Ugo Monye's last-ditch covering tackle, they could have been out of sight by half-time.
But Carter's misses, which book-ended the first half, and the intervention of video referee Nigel Whitehouse, served to keep spirits high on and off the pitch, even if England never threatened to extend the visitors after the interval.
Individually, there was plenty of sustenance to see Johnson through the next 12 weeks before England open their Six Nations campaign with the visit of Wales to Twickenham.
Much-maligned captain Steve Borthwick had far more of an obvious influence on proceedings than usual, Simon Shaw played his usual expert hand on his return, while James Haskell continued to run hard, even if his decision-making at the back of the scrum let him down at times.
Scrum-half Paul Hodgson was also a busy, galvanising presence who deserves another chance, while Mark Cueto was a solid presence at full-back and Monye was far more at home, and a threat, having been restored to his familiar station on the wing.
The returns of Lewis Moody, in particular, and fellow World Cup winners Jonny Wilkinson and Steve Thompson, have also added an extra layer of experience and quality in key positions, even if Wilkinson's was a mixed bag on Saturday.
It was Moody, followed by a fired-up Thompson, who addressed the England players in their post-match huddle on the pitch afterwards, emphasising how the flanker has become one of the team's leaders, on and off the pitch.
"When he speaks, you listen," noted Haskell afterwards. "He is very clear and concise, a no-nonsense guy you can follow. He puts his body on the line and makes everybody want to go over the top with him."
So what was the thrust of Moody's post-match address? "It was basically that we showed we can compete with these guys, that we have the ability," Haskell said. "It is about putting the polish on now, the finishing touch."
That, unfortunately for those of a red rose persuasion, was the glaring difference between the sides, even if New Zealand only scored one try, which is all they managed against Wales and Italy as well.
But the clinical efficiency and expertise with which they seized the moment, after 57 minutes, spoke volumes.
A series of patient pick-and-drives took them to within metres of the England line before man-of-the-match Richie McCaw spotted the opening, put wing Sitiveni Sivivatu into half a yard of space, took the return pass and sent Cowan over in the left corner.
When Carter banged over the conversion from the touchline, you sensed a 10-point lead would be enough.
And so it proved, with England spending large parts of the final quarter in fluster mode whenever the New Zealand try-line came into view.
The lack of patience was highlighted almost immediately as Wilkinson, with England on the attack in the All Blacks 22 having kicked a penalty to touch, opted for a hurried drop-goal that missed its target.
Jonny Wilkinson is off target with his hurried drop-goal attempt in the final quarter
Other grisly moments followed. A hospital pass from Haskell saw Monye enveloped by greedy All Black tacklers. A Shane Geraghty cross-kick to Matt Banahan was knocked on to groans.
But even when another Carter penalty took New Zealand out to 19-6, England had further chances.
Three attacking scrums in the final third were criminally wasted. From the first, 10 metres out, Haskell hesitated and replacement Louis Deacon lost the ball in contact. The next saw a dismal pass from the number eight to Banahan, who knocked on again.
Finally, with the crowd rousing them for a scrum 5m out, Haskell opted for a flipped pass between his legs that Danny Care, standing almost right behind him, also knocked on.
If Tom Croft's barnstorming run to the right corner was only denied by one of several superb Carter tackles, the lack of attacking nous and 'game understanding' - the phrase Haskell used to underline New Zealand's try - between the sides was profound, if not exactly a new phenomenon.
New Zealand coach Graham Henry was happy enough, feeling his side had delivered some "quality rugby" in their best performance of the tour, ahead of a potential humdinger against France in Marseille next week.
He also proclaimed himself "very impressed" with the way England played.
The question now is how they will play when they reconvene in the new year to prepare for the Six Nations.
While Saturday proved England can still compete physically with the world's best, tactically they remain in flux, struggling to find a coherent pattern and sense of purpose.
While Johnson took solace from the imminent return of some of the injured players unavailable to him over the past three weeks, it is doubtful they will still start the Six Nations any higher than third favourites at best.
"Ultimately we need to decide how we want to play in the tournament and pick accordingly," said Johnson as he concluded his post-match debrief.
If that wasn't quite an admission that England haven't settled on either their optimum personnel or game plan yet, it certainly hinted at it.
But then maybe it summed up the prevailing mood after a defeat that restored pride but reminded us of old failings still to be addressed.
Not all black by any means, just different shades of grey.