KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: FOX, Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin
KEYS TO THE GAME: Chicago's defense has been uncharacteristically pliable the past two weeks. Part of the problem: a consistently stalling offense that too often has faced third-and-long situations. The Panthers are utilizing backup personnel in many starting roles and the linebacking corps could be exposed if the Bears are content taking what the defense gives. QB Jay Cutler (14 sacks) can expect the Panthers to blitz regularly; they don't fear the Bears' outside receivers. Cutler, drifting in his drops behind his struggling offensive line, has converted only five third-down tries in the past two games.
FAST FACTS: The Bears have 10 second-half points since Week 1. ... Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams has averaged 46.8 rushing yards per game since the start of '10.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
CB Chris Gamble
Chris Gamble could miss Sunday's game against Chicago after sitting out his second straight day of practice Thursday with a concussion.
Coach Ron Rivera had said earlier in the week he expected Gamble to play against the Bears after Gamble sustained a concussion in Sunday's 16-10 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but now he's not so sure.
"We're a little disappointed," Rivera said. "He was feeling better the other day and we were thinking he might have turned the corner. Unfortunately he didn't feel well today, so we're continuing to follow the protocol. We're a little concerned."
In every case this season -- Jeff Otah in Week 2 and Charles Godfrey in Week 3 -- the player who sustained the concussion in one game missed the next week.
"With the situation and circumstances with the new protocol (on concussions) you have to follow the rules," Rivera said. "But I'm hoping he bucks the trend, I really do."
Rivera said Gamble is having a good season.
"He's played very well and doing the things we need him to do and I would like to hope and think that if there's a chance, hey, I would love to have him play," Rivera said. "If not I understand because we have to follow the rules and make sure we're careful with these guys."
The Panthers did get some good news as Otah returned to practice a day after sitting out with soreness in the back. He's expected to play Sunday against the Bears.
Also, outside linebacker Thomas Davis underwent surgery Thursday to repair a third torn ACL in the same right knee.
Davis hasn't conducted an interview yet on his future, but said on his Twitter page: "And for those of you who have asked, NO way am I going to retire."
The Panthers have a built-in injury clause as part of his $36.5 million contract. He's due an $8 million signing bonus next year and it's hard to imagine the Panthers paying him that kind of money given the fact that he'll have missed 38 of the last 40 games by the time that decision rolls around.
It's possible Davis could agree to a reduced contract to stay in Carolina or be released.
After spending his entire nine-year NFL playing career with the Bears and then five years as an assistant coach in the organization, Panthers first-year head coach Ron Rivera hopes for a warm reception Sunday at Soldier Field when he leads his team against the Bears.
But he won't be shocked if that doesn't happen.
"At some point, I just hope to get a nice little applause," Rivera said. "If not, I understand, because they are Bear fans."
There's no doubt that Rivera will be well received by his former players.
"He was just the ultimate player's coach," said linebacker Brian Urlacher, who made two of his seven Pro Bowls in his three seasons under Rivera. "You could talk to him about anything. He wasn't a bitch coach. He didn't yell at you. He would relay his message to you, not in a manner where it was demeaning, but you definitely got his message. He was always fun to be around. He was very knowledgeable. He knew the game -- still knows it, obviously. Just a great coach."
Lance Briggs went to two of his six Pro Bowls playing in Rivera's defense, and he appreciated the way Rivera conveyed the reasons he wanted things done a certain way.
"He had a way of explaining things to a player to inspire him," Briggs said. "He'll tell you, 'That's not an easy play for anybody to make. But if you can make that play, you'll shut this play down.' That helped in a lot of ways because I've gone through life with a lot of coaches who've just said, 'Do it this way because I told you to do it.'"
Rivera was not rehired as Lovie Smith's defensive coordinator after the 2006 Super Bowl season. It was awkward, especially considering that it was the defense that carried the team. But Rivera has moved on.
"It's a business, and you take it for what it is and you go on," he said. "That's what I've done. I've talked with coach Smith on several occasions, at the (Scouting) Combine and at the owners' meeting and he's been terrific. I guess some people are surprised that that's how I feel about it, but it was nobody's fault. That was just the circumstance, so we moved on."
RB Marion Barber
--S Chris Harris (hamstring) did not practice at all Thursday after participating fully on Wednesday. The setback probably means he'll be doubtful on Sunday.
--OG Lance Louis (ankle) has participated fully in this week's practices and could be back in the starting lineup after missing two games. He was replaced by Chris Spencer in Weeks 2 and 3, although it remains to be seen whether it will be Spencer or left guard Chris Williams who goes to the bench if Louis returns.
--RB Marion Barber (calf) has been a full participant all week and is expected to make his regular-season debut on Sunday.
--S Major Wright (head/neck) has participated fully all week in practice and he should be back in the starting lineup Sunday.
--TE Matt Spaeth (calf) has not practiced at all this week and appears doubtful for Sunday.
--CB Chris Gamble did not practice due to a concussion and could be out this week.
--CB Darius Butler will start if Chris Gamble can't play.
--CB R.J. Stanford could see action Sunday as a nickel back if Chris Gamble can't play.
--RT Jeff Otah returned to practice Thursday after missing a day of work with a back injury. He'll need to be at 100 percent if he lines up against Julius Peppers on Sunday.
--S Jordan Pugh could see fewer reps in nickel packages as the Panthers might play R.J. Stanford more this week.
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