Bears deliver when it matters most
It almost sounded as if the offense was apologizing for its role in the 23-22 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday that jacked the Bears record up to 6-1.
And there was a lot to apologize for -- at least until just past the halfway point in the fourth quarter.
After sleepwalking through most of the previous 3½ quarters, the Bears scored 13 points in eight seconds to take a 20-19 lead.
As is usually the case with this Bears team, the defense played a huge role.
"We just didn't execute, honestly," said quarterback Jay Cutler, who was sacked six times in the first half, lost 2 fumbles, threw an interception and had a passer rating of 18.1.
"I was missing throws, (there were) dropped balls, (we) didn't protect very well. There was mistakes after mistake."
Late in the third quarter, the Bears had been outgained 369-61 and trailed 19-7.
"We're a better team than that," said Cutler, who bounced back to complete 12 of 14 passes in the fourth quarter for 108 yards to finish with an 83.3 passer rating.
"The second half of the fourth quarter -- so eight minutes of the game -- we played well. Other than that, didn't play very well."
But both sides of the ball played their best when it mattered most.
The offense broke a 42- minute, 40-second scoring drought against the league's No. 21 defense when tight end Kellen Davis snagged a 12-yard Cutler bullet with 6:52 left to draw the Bears within 19-14 against the Panthers, who fell to 1-6.
On Carolina's first play after the kickoff, Tim Jennings swiped an errant Cam Newton pass and sprinted 25 yards for the Bears' sixth defensive touchdown of the season.
That ignited a frustrated home crowd and gave the Bears a 20-19 lead. It was Jennings' second interception of the day and his NFL-best sixth of the season. The Bears went for 2 points, but Cutler's pass was picked off.
After the Panthers retook the lead on Justin Medlock's 45-yard field goal with 2:27 left, the Bears' offense put together its longest drive of the day. It ended with Robbie Gould's game-winning 41-yard field goal as time expired.
Cutler hooked up with Brandon Marshall four times for 36 yards on the final drive.
Marshall, who finished with team highs of 9 receptions and 98 yard, also cited a lack of execution by an offense that was outgained 416-210.
"We were just taking turns not making plays," Marshall said. "Dropped ball by myself, drop by a tight end (Matt Spaeth), drop by a running back (Matt Forte), missed block here.
"But the thing I like was we played from behind. Last time we did that we lost (at Green Bay in Week 2).
"It was great work for us, but we have to give credit where credit is due. Carolina put it to us, but we responded well that last drive."
Despite the 3 first-half Cutler turnovers, the Bears managed a 7-3 lead at the end of the first quarter. But it didn't last for long.
Cutler's second pass of the afternoon was ill-advised at best. Looking for Marshall deep down the middle, he threw short and into triple coverage and was picked off by cornerback Josh Norman at the Carolina 5-yard line.
But the Bears' defense kept the Panthers pinned, and a short punt allowed the offense to start at the Panthers' 49. It took just four plays for the Bears to take a 7-0 lead.
The NFC North leaders weren't nearly as fortunate following Cutler's second turnover.
He was sacked for the second straight play and lost a fumble at his own 16-yard line. Three plays later Newton bolted 9 yards and fumbled at the goal line when hit by Major Wright, but the ball was recovered by wide receiver Louis Murphy to give Carolina a 10-7 lead on the second play of the second quarter.
Cutler's fumble on a sack wasted Jennings' first pick, a diving grab near midfield with 38 seconds left in the first half, and frittered away a chance for the Bears to cut into the Panthers' 13-7 lead.
"A lot of things that went wrong for us early on were more what they were doing -- they were playing better football than we were," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "(Panthers coach) Ron Rivera had them ready to play."
Smith wasn't as complimentary when assessing his own performance, and he declined to use the short week following a Monday night game as an excuse.
"We didn't play well," he said. "I didn't get the team ready to play for whatever reason. We'll be in this situation again this year, and we just have to make sure it doesn't happen again."
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