It was not a pretty win by any means but the Chicago Bears handled their business at home today, beating the Carolina Panthers 34-29. And they did so staying relatively healthy. In fact, the only injury to report is Chris Spencer's bruised hand, which kept him out for about a quarter before he returned to the game. Other than that, no on else missed any time in the game.
-Devin Hester set an NFL record today, returning the 11th punt of his career for a touchdown. It came in the second quarter. The Panthers were forced to punt deep in their own zone. Carolina punter Jeff Baker booted a low, line-drive kick right down the middle of the field. Hester took a few steps to his right then cut hard to his left, breaking through a wall of defenders and outrunning the defense to the end zone. The 69-yard jaunt places him in the record books as arguably the best punt returner to ever play in the NFL.
Hester somersaulted into the end zone, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, and he did absolutely nothing as a receiver, but his return TD put the Bears up by 14, a lead they never relinquished.
-Matt Forte also had a career day, rushing 25 times for 205 yards. The rushing yardage was the most in any single game of his career. His previous best was 166 yards last year against the Panthers. The 205 yards today ties him for second all time in Bears history behind only Walter Payton's 275 against Minnesota in 1977.
RB Matt Forte
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
The front line opened a number of holes for Forte and he wasn't even touched on his 17-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Still, Forte made a number of defenders miss, showing good burst, agility and field vision throughout the contest. The biggest mistake Chicago's front office made this offseason wasn't trading Greg Olsen or letting Olin Kreutz walk, it was not locking up Forte to a long-term contract. He's on pace for a career year, one that could earn him his first trip to the Pro Bowl. After that, he'll be a sought-after commodity by nearly every team in the league, which will make it very difficult for the Bears to re-sign him.
-The offensive line went through some major shuffling during the game. Chris Spencer started at right guard but missed some time in the first half after injuring his hand. Lance Louis, in his first game back from an ankle injury, replaced Spencer. Then Spencer came back in the game at right guard and Louis went back to the bench. Around that time, RT Frank Omiyale gave up a bad sack to Carolina's Charles Johnson and he got the hook. He was replaced by Louis, who has never played tackle in his career. Then, three times in the second half, Omiyale took over at right tackle and Louis lined up outside of him as an eligible receiver. After those plays, Louis went back to right tackle and Omiyale went back to the bench. Overall, Louis did a decent job on the right edge.
The reason for all the shuffling is due to Gabe Carimi's knee injury. Once he returns, the front five should be able to solidify itself. Until then, it appears the coaches are going to go with the hot hand.
-Omiyale got pulled after giving up one sack but, for the second week in a row, left guard Chris Williams was even worse. He does not have the speed to get down the line on traps and has a very hard time engaging defenders in open space. On power runs he was pushed back repeatedly. Right now, he's playing worse than any offensive lineman on the team.
-D.J. Moore had a pick-six today, the team's second defensive touchdown of the season. The play was reminiscent of the two Mike Brown touchdowns from 2001. Panthers TE Greg Olsen ran across the middle between linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. Cam Newton was under pressure from DT Matt Toeaina and tried to force the ball to Olsen. Urlacher and Briggs broke on the ball, tipping it up in the air. Moore snagged it just before it hit the ground and returned the interception 20 yards for a touchdown. It proved to be a pivotal play that put the Bears up 10-3 at that point.
-RB Marion Barber was active for the first time this season but saw just five carries. He was able to punch the ball in late in the fourth quarter for the game-winning touchdown but overall he wasn't much of a factor. It's hard to make an impression though when Forte is having the game of his life. Expect Barber's involvement in the offense to increase as the season wears on.
-WR Johnny Knox got the start ahead of Roy Williams today. This was the first game Williams was not in the starting lineup and, considering how poorly he's played through the first quarter of the season, it wouldn't be surprising if it stayed that way. Knox caught three passes for a team-leading 48 yards while Williams caught just one ball for 15 yards … and a first-down signal.
-For the third straight game, coordinator Mike Martz's play calling was completely lopsided, only this time in a good way. The Bears rushed the ball 31 times compared to just 17 pass attempts. The team had more than double the yards on the ground as it did through the air (224 to 102). Yet amazingly, Carolina possessed the ball for seven more minutes than Chicago on the day. Hester's return TD and Moore's quick interception TD kept the Panthers' offense on the field for a long stretch in the second quarter, explaining the TOP disparity.
-The Bears special teams were outstanding again today. Not only did the unit score on a punt return but Julius Peppers was also able to block a field goal attempt. One thing Chicago can always count on is its special teams, which often picks up the slack when the offense and/or defense are struggling.
-Once again, Kellen Davis had a rough day blocking and was hardly used as a pass catcher. On numerous plays this afternoon, Davis came off the ball slow and high, and was driven into the backfield. And as a pass catcher he was targeted just once. No player on this team is having his talents wasted more than Davis.
QB Jay Cutler
Rob Grabowski/US Presswire
-QB Jay Cutler completed just nine passes on the day, the second lowest total of any regular season game he's started in his career. Yet it wasn't as if the passing game was ineffective. For the most part, the Bears were able to move the ball through the air but they didn't need to pass it much due to the dominance of the ground game.
-Chicago's defense gave up 543 yards of offense to the Panthers. Carolina had no problem running the ball in the first half and finished the day with 169 yards on the ground. Newton threw for 374 yards and made a number of plays using his feet. He had time to throw for most of the games and even when the defensive line did get pressure, they weren't able to bring him to the ground – the Bears did not earn a single sack.
-The Panthers' defense didn't blitz as much as most might have expected given the success of New Orleans and Green Bay the past two weeks, but even so, the offensive line did a good job of giving Cutler time to throw. He was hit just three times and sacked only once. Even with all the shuffling along the right side of the line, the front five had a very good day.
-The two biggest keys for Chicago's defense today were to stop WR Steve Smith and TE Greg Olsen. They failed to accomplish either. Smith caught eight passes for 181 yards, while Olsen hauled in five balls for 50 yards and a touchdown. On two occasions S Brandon Meriweather allowed Smith to get behind him in two-deep zone coverage. Meriweather was replacing the injured Chris Harris, the leader of the secondary. He cannot get back on the field fast enough.
-Calling all defensive ends. Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije were pretty much non-existent throughout most of the game. Nick Reed had a couple of nice plays but didn't have much of an overall impact. And Corey Wootton, in his first game back after hurting his knee in the first preseason game, showed he still has a long way to go. Against the run, Wootton was a liability, getting pushed around with ease.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.