Turning Point: Defense Falters Under Pressure

The Bears gave up the fewest points in the league during the regular season, but were torched for 29 points against the Panthers en route to dropping their divisional matchup.

In most cases 21 points would be more than enough for a Bears victory. In a role reversal from the first matchup, Carolina played from the lead and Chicago had to play catch up for the entire game.

"The main thing we wanted to accomplish this time was to start fast and we were able to do that," said Panthers Coach John Fox.

The Bears had no answer for WR Steve Smith. He scored on the second play of the game and it would not be the last time he would visit the end zone.

Smith caught 14 balls for 169 yards in the first meeting of the season, but more importantly he didn't score.

Surprisingly Smith improved upon his numbers in the second matchup. He finished the day with 12 catches for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Both of his scores came when the cornerback covering him fell to the ground.

"Steve Smith. That's what happened to us," said MLB Brian Urlacher giving up a season high 434 yards of total offense. "He just kept making plays. When they needed a play, he made it and we did not. He's the best offensive player in the league. He's a great player."

Despite the Bears mistakes, Smith made more than his share of great plays. When he and CB Charles Tillman went up for a jump ball, the five-foot-9 receiver took the ball away from the six-foot-1 cornerback.

"I'm not a very tall guy, but I can jump," Smith said. "He did catch the ball, but I wanted it a little bit more than him."

QB Jake Delhomme had time in the pocket and was sacked just once. As a result, he played a mistake free game with 319 yards passing, which the highest total surrendered by Chicago this season. He countered his one interception with three touchdown passes and a 120.6 passer rating. His effort was a complete turnaround from his 8-sack, two-interception performance on Nov. 20.

"We had some of the same plays organized from the last trip, " Fox said. "We did a little bit of different things with protection. Our offensive line played extremely well and we executed better."

Even though Carolina RB DeShaun left the game with a broken ankle after his first carry in the third quarter, the defense failed to take advantage of making the Panthers one-dimensional.

While Chicago did make it a two-point game on two separate occasions, Carolina dominated the time of possession in the first half and being on the field for more than 33 minutes seem to wear on the defense as the game progressed.

The Panthers out rushed the Bears 123 yards to 97, which is telltale sign that the game plan offensive coordinator Ron Turner wanted to run had to be altered when the team fell behind in the first half.

The Bears had 20 passes to 10 runs after 30 minutes. Grossman started the game 2 of 12 for 4 yards, in large part because of what the Panthers were throwing at the first time postseason starter.

"They did a great job of mixing up blitzes and looks and things, and it took me a while to get adjusted to seeing exactly what their plan," Rex Grossman said. "Just as an offense as a whole, you can't get into a rhythm when you go three and out. So you need to be out on the field to establish that, and every time we went three and out it hurt."

So did the fact that the defense gave up more points and yards at home then they have all season. The Bears will have an entire off-season to think about what might have been.

"I don't feel we executed the way we (wanted to) and a lot of things were said during the week that were not backed up in the game," said DT Tommie Harris. "It's hard swallowing a pill when your offense goes out there and they do a tremendous job, they put up enough points, and it finally falls on the defense (to stop the Panthers and) you didn't do the right thing."

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