Sometimes, when a team wants to hand you a victory, you smile and say "thank you". Such was the case this afternoon for the Chicago Bears, who owe the Carolina Panthers a fruit basket after their late-game collapse. After three quarters of ineptitude, the Bears put together a wild fourth-quarter comeback, culminating in a Robbie Gould game-winning field goal with no time left on the clock.
The Bears move to 6-1 on the season and stay atop the NFC North. They head on the road next week to play the Tennessee Titans.
There were no new Bears injuries of note. WR Brandon Marshall left the field briefly after an apparent lower leg injury but returned a play later. DT Henry Melton missed a few reps early in the game with a possible sore back but he also returned.
Notes from Week 8
-The Bears offense has problems. Heading into the fourth quarter, Chicago had 94 total yards of offense. QB Jay Cutler was just 7 of 14 for 80 yards and had been sacked six times. He was oft hurried and off target, and his receivers were dropping passes.
Then the fourth quarter rolled around and Cutler got hot. He started his run by completing two passes to WR Earl Bennett to close out the third quarter and carried that momentum into the final stanza. In the fourth quarter, Cutler went 12 for 14 for 106 yards. He found TE Kellen Davis in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown with 6:52 remaining in the game. After the Panthers took the lead 2:26 remaining, Cutler led his offense on a 55-yard drive that culminated in Gould's game winner.
Coming into this contest, Cutler had the highest fourth-quarter passer rating of any QB in the NFL and he once again played his best ball when the game was on the line. He finished the contest 19 of 28 for 186 yards, with an 83.3 QB rating.
-One of the main reasons it took Cutler so long to find a rhythm was the porous pass blocking by the offensive line. Cutler was sacked six times on the afternoon. A few of the sacks were his own fault for holding onto the ball too long but for most the game Cutler was running for his life. For as long as the front five fails to keep their quarterback upright, the Bears passing attack will continue to struggle.
-RT Gabe Carimi is slowly becoming a liability in pass protection. LT J'Marcus Webb allowed one egregious sack but other than that, he played decently. But Carimi is just letting in pressure left and right. He's a beast as a run blocker but he protects like a sieve on the right edge.
-RB Matt Forte had another solid game, carrying the ball 15 times for 70 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown. He also caught five passes for 24 yards. His success came behind the solid run blocking of Carimi, as well as guards Lance Louis and Chilo Rachal. Both guards were maulers throughout the contest, consistently blowing up defenders and opening holes. Right now, Chicago's run game is clicking, due mainly to the play of Louis and Rachal up front.
-Heading into the fourth quarter, Brandon Marshall had just three catches for 37 yards. In the final frame, he caught six passes for 61 yards. He was at his best when the team needed him most. During the final two-minute drive, Marshall caught passes of eight, seven, 11 and 10 yards, helping Chicago move the ball into field-goal position. That drive alone proved why Marshall is one of the best wideouts in the game.
-TE Kellen Davis had just one catch, but it was a big one, a 12-yard strike from Cutler that cut the lead to five points. Davis was double covered yet was able to go up and grab the high pass. It was the momentum-changing play the Bears needed to propel them to victory.
-On the defensive side of the ball, what more can you say about CB Tim Jennings? With the Panthers driving into Chicago territory just before the end of the first half, Jennings intercepted a Cam Newton pass. He then made the biggest play of the game late in the fourth quarter.
On a first down pass, Jennings lined up across from WR Steve Smith, who slipped running an out route. Newton fired the pass across the field but his receiver was on the ground, and Jennings was able to reach up and pull in the interception. He then returned it 25 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. He had three other defended passes in the game and also led the team with eight tackles.
Jennings' two picks give him six on the season, which leads the NFL. He is easily the team's MVP through the first seven weeks of the season and is on a fast track to his first Pro Bowl appearance.
-DE Julius Peppers was a disruptive force today, racking up the only two sacks for Chicago's defense. He also forced a fumble. His presence off the edge kept Newton from ever getting comfortable.
-The Panthers rushed for 119 yards in the game, only the second time this season Chicago's second-ranked rushing defense has allowed an opponent to rush for more than 100 yards. Yet Carolina needed 36 carries to get those yards. Most defenses will walk away happy after allowing just 3.3 yards per carry.
-It's a testament to Chicago's never-say-die attitude when the defense is still playing at a high level late in the game, despite losing the time of possession battle 36:38 to 23:22. The Bears' defense appeared gassed in the third quarter, yet they mustered up enough energy in the fourth quarter to get the win.
-S Chris Conte struggled today. He was burned on a catch by WR Brandon LaFell in the first half, which resulted in a 62-yard catch. He then had a personal foul penalty on LaFell – contact to the head of a defenseless receiver – that kept a Panthers drive alive. It was Conte's first bad game of the season so far, so we'll give him a pass.
-The Bears have now returned six interceptions for touchdowns this year, the most in a single season in franchise history … and it's only Week 8. It is also the most pick-sixes in a team's first seven games in NFL history.
-Today is just the 13th time in Lovie Smith's tenure that the Bears have won a game despite losing the turnover battle.
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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.