The Chicago Bears held a 21-7 lead against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, but for the second consecutive week offensive turnovers cost them dearly as they dropped a 31-24 decision in Charlotte.
The loss pushes the Bears' record to 2-3 on the season and leaves them scratching their heads after coughing up yet another lead. Jay Cutler threw two touchdowns and two costly interceptions in the game, and Matt Forte's fourth quarter fumble ended up leading to the winning score for the Panthers.
As the game got underway, the Panthers got the ball first and promptly had to punt the ball away. Lamarr Houston made a big tackle off the edge to stop a running play, and then Willie Young and Stephen Paea got pressure on Cam Newton to force him to short-arm a throw.
After a three-and-out by the Bears on their first possession, the Panthers were able to strike quickly and get on the board. Teddy Williams, who was just added to the 53-man roster this week, drilled Philly Brown early on the punt, and while the flags and ball were laying on the ground, Brown picked it up and ran it 79 yards into the end zone to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead.
The Bears’ next possession ended in a similar way to their first, as they were unable to get anything going. On an attempted throw to Brandon Marshall in triple coverage, Jay Cutler threw an interception, but things quickly went south for the Panthers. As Kelvin Benjamin came down with a catch, Isaiah Frey punched the ball loose and recovered it, giving Cutler a chance to redeem himself.
Fortunately for the Bears, that’s exactly what Cutler did. The quarterback tossed a nice pass to Marshall to set up a first-and-goal situation, and in the ensuing red zone possession Cutler found Matt Forte with a screen pass, and the running back did the rest as he sliced through the Carolina defense to get to the end zone and tie things up at 7-7.
On the Panthers’ next drive, the Bears’ defense went back to work and generated another turnover deep in Carolina territory. Willie Young got around the outside edge of the line and grabbed Newton’s arm, forcing a fumble that Houston ultimately landed on. The Bears were once again able to cash in on the turnover, as Cutler pulled down the ball on a third-and-seven play and scampered into the end zone for a score to make it 14-7 Chicago.
The Bears’ defense held tough as the first quarter came to an end, with Kyle Fuller punching a ball out of Kelvin Benjamin’s hands to force a Panthers punt, and once again the Bears marched down the field on offense. Cutler picked up a key first down after the Panthers’ Cover-2 scheme broke down and left a gap in the middle of the field, and then Alshon Jeffery scored the touchdown as he got downfield blocks from Marshall and Martellus Bennett on a screen pass to make it a 21-7 game with 11 minutes remaining in the first half.
Ego Ferguson showed up in a big way for the Bears’ defense on the next Panther drive, and he helped generate yet another turnover. On consecutive plays, he batted down passes at the line of scrimmage, and on the second one Lance Briggs was able to intercept the ball. This time though, the Bears weren’t able to put points on the board after a turnover, as a 56-yard gain by Forte was wasted when Robbie Gould’s field goal attempt with two minutes left in the half sailed wide right.
The Panthers put together a quick scoring drive to end the half, with Benjamin hauling in a pass to help get things started. Ultimately it was Greg Olsen doing in his former team, snaring a touchdown catch in the back of the end zone to make it a 21-14 game just before halftime.
The Bears failed to score on their first drive of the second half, and the Panthers took advantage of a couple of Chicago penalties to tie things up. Christian Jones was flagged for a facemask, and then Fuller was tagged for pass interference in the end zone. Running back Chris Ogbonnaya then ran the ball in for the score, and with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter the Panthers finished erasing the Bears’ lead.
Penalties again played a role in the Bears’ next drive, with Marshall being flagged for a blindside block and Cutler going down thanks to a late hit by the Panthers. Unfortunately for Chicago, they couldn’t take full advantage of the extra laundry on the field, and when Forte was stopped on a third-and-short run Gould nailed a 45-yard field goal to make it a 24-21 game.
The Bears got a great stop on the Panthers’ next drive, picking up a sack from Paea to take Carolina out of field goal range as the fourth quarter got underway. Once again though, Chicago couldn’t take advantage of the big defensive stop, as Cutler was blasted on a third down blitz.
After stopping the Panthers again and needing to burn some clock, the Bears instead used their next offensive possession to turn the ball over. Cutler got set to throw over the middle to Santonio Holmes, but he airmailed the throw and got it intercepted. The Panthers were limited to a field goal by the Bears’ defense, but the score still tied the game at 24-24.
Early on the next Chicago drive, the Bears were bitten by the turnover bug as it was Forte’s turn to cough it up. His fumble gave the Panthers some great field position in the red zone, and Olsen snagged his second touchdown catch of the day after beating Danny McCray in one-on-one coverage to give Carolina a 31-24 lead.
With the clock winding down, the Bears needed to move the ball upfield quickly, and instead they let yet another drive fizzle out. Cutler nearly threw an interception down the sideline on third down, and then on a fourth-and-21 play, he was sacked when Matt Slauson and Michael Ola got crossed up on a stunt at the line of scrimmage. The Panthers got the ball back on downs, and they were able to take a knee and end the game.
The Bears will try to get back to the .500 mark next week when they take on the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome.