The Six Nations champions went down 25-23 to Australia in the second game of their three-match Test series at the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne on Saturday. Wales outscored the Wallabies two tries to one and held the lead when the final whistle went, only to miss out on a first win on Australian soil in 43 years when Mike Harris landed a penalty kick.
"When you haven't won in Australia since 1969 and you are 20 seconds away from doing that, it doesn't get any worse than that," Howley said. "We were 20 seconds away from beating Australia. For 79 minutes and 40 odd seconds we have done a lot of good. But we are getting closer and are not far away, are we?"
The victory gave the Wallabies an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series, but Howley thinks there is not much between his side and the best the Southern Hemisphere have to offer.
Howley said his side lacked composure in the closing stages, especially in the final minute when reserve Richard Hibbard gave away a penalty that allowed the Wallabies to snatch victory.
"We spoke in the change room about lacking composure," he said.
"We gave them the opportunity through lack of discipline in the last two minutes and like any top side in world rugby they take their chances. It is just a matter of mastering those key moments in international Test match rugby.
"Today, on occasions, we didn't master those moments as we have in previous games, particularly in the Six Nations."
Despite being bitterly disappointed in losing the series, Howley remains confident that his side can hit back in the final Test against the Wallabies in Sydney next week.
"All the players and coaches are disappointed," he said. "I am immensely proud of their effort and everything they have done and I think they will come back stronger."