The Bears built a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter, but mistakes on offense, defense and special teams allowed the Panthers to claw back.
Defensive Turnovers: The Bears defense caused three Carolina turnovers in the first quarter. Isiah Fry forced Panthers’ rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to fumble and recovered the ball, which lead to the Bears’ first touchdown. On Carolina’s next possession, Willie Young knocked the ball from Cam Newton’s hand and the fumble was recovered by Lamarr Houston. (Young also recorded his fifth sack of the season, just one behind the league lead.) Three plays later, Jay Cutler scrambled into the end zone to give the Bears a 14-7 lead. Lance Briggs later picked off a tipped Newton pass in the second quarter, although a missed Robbie Gould field goal prevented the Bears from converting the turnover into points.
Matt Forte: Forte ran for 61 yards on 16 carries and caught 12 passes for 105 yards and a TD.
Alshon Jeffery: The Bears wideout had one of his best games of 2014, catching six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown—a short pass he ran in 25 yards virtually untouched.
Offensive Turnovers: Jay Cutler threw two inopportune interceptions, Matt Forte fumbled late in the game, and the Bears allowed Carolina back into the game the same way the Bears built their early lead. It didn’t matter that the Bears won the time of possession or racked up more total yards, as they still scored fewer points and lost the game.
While Cutler’s first pick was negated by Fry’s forced fumble, Cutler’s second pick resulted in the game-tying fourth quarter field goal. Forte’s fumble resulted in the game-winning touchdown, a pass from Newton to former Bears tight end Greg Olsen.
Defense: Carolina’s offense was in bad shape. They’re on their fourth and fifth running backs. Their only legitimate receivers are a rookie and Olsen. Cam Newton was banged up. And yet the Bears defense allowed the Panthers to score 31 points on Sunday. Despite playing near flawless defense for a quarter and a half, they shifted coverages and fell apart. Newton twice found Olsen for touchdowns, as the former Bear caught six passes for 72 yards.
Special Teams: You’d think the Bears would learn about playing to the whistle after last year’s Green Bay debacle. They haven’t. On the Bears’ first punt of the game, newly-signed Teddy Williams hit Panthers’ punt returner Philly Brown before the ball got to him, drawing a flag. The whistle wasn’t blown, yet a large number of Bears pulled up on the play. Others scrambled for the loose ball, Brown came away with it, and returned the ball 79 yards for the game’s first score. Robbie Gould also missed a 35 yard field goal.
Coach: Play on both special teams and defense were undisciplined and bone-headed. This comes from the top. If the Bears are looking for a scapegoat for yet another game that slipped away, Mel Tucker or Joe DeCamillis look like credible targets. The Trib’s Steve Rosenbloom is calling for somebody’s head after this collapse.
With their loss to the Panthers, the Bears slip to 2-3 on the season, and can see their season slipping away. They had first half leads and momentum each of the past two weeks, but couldn’t carry that through the second half. In these past two games, the Bears have been outscored 38-3 after halftime. Can they right the ship before facing Atlanta next Sunday, and figure out how to play 60 minutes of football? At 3-3, their playoff hopes may survive. If they fall to 2-4, the season’s over, and we will expect to see some coaches’ heads roll.