Bears survive a scare against the lowly Panthers
All those thoughts ran through my mind as I watched the Bears trailing 19-6 in the 4th quarter. It appeared the upset was inevitable. It's one thing to be a die hard fan who thinks his team will always prevail; it's another to see what's happening on the field and think the worst is possible.
It would've been one thing if the Bears came out flat as they did against Jacksonville following a Monday night game. However, after Jay Cutler threw an early interception, the Bears marched down the field via Matt Forte runs and punched it in for a 7-0 lead. But then something happened. It's almost as if the Bears thought the game was over and didn't realize the Panthers weren't going to just roll over and die.
For all the criticism of Cam Newton and his throwing ability, he sure embraced the challenge of taking on the so-called great Bears defense. Newton looked sharp for most of the game, throwing for over 300 yards. And Steve Smith just owns the Bears secondary; he has since 2003. I still have nightmares of that divisional playoff game where he torched the Bears for over 200 yards.
For all those experts who say the Bears defense has changed things up and now run different coverages besides their cover 2; well--not this game. Newton, Smith and company did whatever they wanted most of the game. They were 10-19 on 3rd down and totaled 416 yards from scrimmage. The Bears hardly blitzed and Newton took advantage of a very soft cover 2. And even when there was press coverage, Smith just made Bears cornerback Tim Jennings look silly.
Then Jay Cutler did everything in his power to hand the game to the Panthers. He fumbled twice after the interception and just looked flat. The Panthers also contributed by re-exposing (is that a word?) the Bears offensive line with 6 sacks. Cutler had no time to throw, and to no surprise didn't care to put two hands on the football as he was being taken down. In Cutler's defense he was a victim of at least 3 drops that would've resulted in first downs. It was a total disaster.
And due to the Panthers strategy not to kickoff to Devin Hester, the Bears had the ball with great field position for most of the game and continually failed to capitalize. And someone should tell Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice that they are allowed to run Matt Forte more than 15 times. Forte only ran for over 200 yards against the Panthers last year. Logic would tell you to run the ball more and pass less. I'm sure that won't sit well with Lovie Smith and will be corrected. I could see if the Panthers were shutting him down, but when he was averaging 4.7 per carry--RUN HIM MORE!!!!
I honestly thought I was going to drink myself into a coma. I had been trash talking with Giants fans all week; saying the Bears were the best team in the league (actually said best in the world ala CM Punk). Losing to the Panthers at home would've had me looking for a shovel to dig the proverbial hole in the ground to jump in. I was waiting for some kind of life from this team 5-1 team that could save me from such an embarrassing week at work.
And then it happened. After 6 out of 7 drives of going 3 and out, the Bears started to move the football. The drive stalled in the red zone but Mr. reliable Robbie Gould lined up for an easy 33-yard chip shot. When he missed that kick I thought it was over. Albeit there were still 12 minutes left in the 4th quarter, down 19-6 I was dubious the Bears on this day would win the game. But the Panthers, as 1-5 teams do, kept trying to give the Bears life.
It was a typical windy October day at Soldier field. Panthers punter, Brad Nortman, only had to punt twice until this point. He then proceeded to shank a 6-yard punt, which gave the Bears another short field. This time the Bears finally woke up. 7 plays later Jay Cutler fired to the back of the end zone that Kellen Davis caught for a touchdown and the Bears were now down 19-14 with still nearly 7 minutes to go.
Cam Newton then went back to the air looking for Steve Smith. I'm sure it would've been a 10 yard completion for a first down. Remember--Smith OWNS the Bears. But on this play the Bears lucked out and Smith slipped, which led to a gift interception TD return for Tim Jennings. The Bears had their first lead since 7-0. In a matter of minutes the Bears now led a game in which I thought they had little chance to win.
However, Newton still had plenty of time and engineered a drive that gave the Panthers a 45-yard field goal attempt. Panthers kicker Justin Medlock was already 4-4 on the day, but this is the one where you think the law of averages may play a part, or perhaps the wind may finally factor in. Medlock hooked it but the ball hit the upright and somehow went through. As a fan you can look at it two ways: Either the Panthers are destined to win this game, or if the Bears can comeback down 19-6 to take the lead, then needing a field goal with over 2 minutes left, shouldn't be a problem.
Most people say I'm negative. I tell them that I'm not optimistic, or pessimistic, but rather realistic. And after seeing what transpired in the 4th quarter, I actually had a good felling that Cutler would lead the Bears into field goal range. And he didn't disappoint; right down the field the Bears went with ease. They were approaching the red zone with time running out and I knew Gould would get a chance at redemption. The third most accurate kicker in the history of the league couldn't possibly miss back-to-back kicks.
And as they say, Robbie was 'good as Gold', and the Bears survived what I hope will be nothing more than a wake up call. The Falcons survived two scares against bad teams. I'm hoping this will be the only close encounter for the Bears against the bottom of the league. All good teams have at least one game like this during the season. Not all of them get to say they won it. At least Ron Rivera didn't say 'they are who we thought they were' in the post game press conference. Whatever happened to the guy who said that?