What began with the makings of a potential blowout ended up being the survival of the fittest as the Bears held on to beat the Panthers, 23-6. The Bears were clearly the better team and the win pushed them to a 4-1 record, but it was discouraging that they couldn’t sustain the momentum they had in the first quarter.
All week leading up to the game, the talk was about how Mike Martz needed to start calling some more run plays to take the pressure off the offensive line and so that he could keep his quarterback upright. It was of particular importance to run the ball more with Jay Cutler out for the game. Martz took the advice of Lovie Smith and the Bears ran the ball and ran it well against Carolina.
On the first drive of the game, the Bears ran four plays, three of which were runs. Matt Forte scored on an 18-yard run off a misdirection play. On first down of their second possession, Forte took the handoff off left tackle and scored on a 68-yard run. Interestingly enough, Brandon Manumaleuna had the key block on that play and he’s received a lot of criticism for his lack of blocking as a Bear.
On the ensuing Panthers possession, Julius Peppers got his hands up on a Jimmy Clausen pass and batted it into the air. While Peppers was down on one knee, he looked up and tracked the ball and intercepted it. It was one of the more athletic plays we’ve seen around these parts in a while. The Bears then tacked on three points from a Robbie Gould field goal.
Unfortunately, the Bears did not score again until their were six minutes left in the game. Gould added a field goal then, and another one three minutes later.
Todd Collins was a mess from the beginning of the game. He threw four interceptions before mercifully being pulled in favor of Caleb Hanie. Cutler is no lock to return to action next week, but the Bears sure need him back in the lineup. Once the Panthers settled down after that initial onslaught, the Bears were not able to move the ball effectively.
Forte finished with 166 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries and Chester Taylor added 43 yards on 18 carries. It was good to see Taylor get more touches today.
As I mentioned, there was very little from the passing game today. Collins completed just 6-of-16 passes and Hanie was 2-for-3. Forte and Taylor each caught two passes as did Devin Hester. Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett each added one catch.
Hester at least played a factor in the return game. Hester returned a punt early in the game for 50 yards and nearly broke it for a touchdown but was brought down by the punter. After that return, the Panthers kept kicking it directly out of bounds to keep it away from Hester.
With the Packers’ overtime loss to the Redskins, the Bears are now one game ahead of them in the NFC North division race, but it’s a virtual two-game lead due to the tiebreaker the Bears have after beating them in Week 3. The Bears have yet another winnable game next week at home against the Seahawks.