Turning Point: Quick Start

Chicago - The Bears jumped out to an early lead against the Panthers thanks to two Nathan Vasher interceptions. The offense converted the turnovers into ten points and never looked back.

With emotions riding high on both sides, the Bears came up with the first big play of the game. Thanks to Lance Briggs and Alex Brown putting pressure on QB Jake Delhomme, he threw a poor pass and Vasher caught the ball. He returned the pick 46 yards to give the offense the ball at the Carolina 8.

The offense has been less than spectacular all season, but the unit has been effective in the red zone. Kyle Orton hit Muhsin Muhammad for a 3-yard touchdown pass on third down to give the Bears a 7-0 lead three minutes into the game.

While that turned out to be enough points to win, Vasher wasn't done. Later in the first quarter, Delhomme felt pressure when it wasn't there and threw off his back foot. The pass went right to Vasher again and this time he ran it back 22 yards.

"He's a good quarterback, but like with any quarterback, once you get them moving and get in their face they get jittery," said DE Adewale Ogunleye, who had three sacks. "Those picks set the tone for the day."

Although the offense failed to put the ball in the end zone, Robbie Gould's 33-yard field goal gave the Bears a 10-point cushion.

"That was real big," Orton said. "Our defense is so good playing with the lead. They just get after the quarterback and make it so tough for the other team (to come back)."

For the first time since the Minnesota game, the defense had room for error. The Panthers were unable to establish their running game and became one-dimensional.

"Anytime you go on the road, it's important not to fall behind," said Carolina head coach John Fox. "We got in a bit more pass mode - particularly in the fourth quarter - they put their ears back and got after us pretty good. But I think our start had a lot to do with how our day went."

Even though Delhomme threw for 235 yards, it took 38 attempts to reach the total. The defensive line produced eight sacks, which is the most by a Chicago defense since 1991. The Panthers abandoned the run, as they only rushed the ball 16 times with only five attempts came in the second half.

The Bears were able to drop seven men back into coverage because the front four was able to get to Delhomme consistently.

"The defensive line really got after them," MLB Brian Urlacher said. "We didn't have to push that much. We tackled pretty well and got good pressure on the quarterback"

The offense also benefited from playing with the lead. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner was able to mix the run and pass all day long to keep Carolina guessing. He called 31 rushes compared to 26 passes.

The key was the play of the offensive line. They kept the talented defensive ends off Orton, who wasn't sacked for the second straight game. The group also opened up holes for the running game, which produced 122 yards against the second ranked rush defense in the league.

"We've played good fronts before and the run set up quite a bit," said head coach Lovie Smith. "We were going against good football players. But, for us, this was a normal day for our offensive line."

If this type of effort by both sides of the ball becomes routine, the Bears will have a chance to make some real noise come January.


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