CHARLOTTE, N.C (AP) – After watching the Chicago Bears build a big lead behind a stout defense and a rookie running back, the Carolina Panthers used the same combination to stage a late comeback for an unlikely 2-0 start.
Jonathan Stewart rushed for all but one of his 77 yards in the second half and scored two touchdowns, including the go-ahead TD late in the fourth quarter, and the Panthers stopped the Bears on fourth-and-1 with under 2 minutes left in a 20-17 win Sunday.
The Panthers scored the game's final 17 points, recovering from a mistake-prone first half behind their improved defense.
Without suspended star receiver Steve Smith, the Panthers snapped a four-game losing streak in home openers – a week after they stunned San Diego with a touchdown on the final play.
The Bears (1-1) couldn't build off last week's impressive win in Indianapolis, despite 92 yards rushing from Matt Forte. Kyle Orton didn't have a turnover for a second straight game but passed for only 149 yards and consistently overthrew receivers. Chicago also lost kick returner Devin Hester to an apparent rib injury in the third quarter.
Stewart's 1-yard TD run with 3:52 left put the Panthers ahead for the first time. Delhomme was 3-of-3 for 43 yards on the drive, which included a bruising 11-yard rush by Stewart.
The 13th pick in the draft, Stewart had only one carry for one yard in the first half. But he took over for DeAngelo Williams after halftime, and the Panthers overcame a heat index around 100 degrees with a win that brings more confidence to a team that went 7-9 without the injured Delhomme last season.
Delhomme was only 12 of 21 for 128 yards passing and an interception, but he overcame a jarring hit to the head to come alive late for the second straight week.
The Bears seemed to be in control after cornerback Charles Tillman intercepted Delhomme's pass that bounced off tight end Jeff King. It quickly led to McKie's 1-yard touchdown run that made it 17-3 early in the third quarter.
On the next possession, Lance Briggs leveled Delhomme with a shoulder-to-helmet hit as Delhomme began his slide following a scramble. Delhomme ripped off his helmet and grabbed his head. No penalty was called, and the drive ended with John Kasay's 45-yard field goal.
The Panthers got back in it on the next possession behind Harris. In his first game against Chicago since being traded for a fifth-round pick during training camp last year, Harris stripped the ball from tight end Greg Olsen. Chris Gamble recovered at the Chicago 21, and Stewart's first NFL touchdown – a tough 4-yard run – made it 17-13.
It was Harris' second forced fumble this season, after he led the NFL with eight a year ago, and Olsen's second lost fumble of the day.
Despite having nearly as many penalty yards (40) as total yards (47) in the first half, the Panthers trailed only 10-3 at halftime.
After a quick three-and-out in Delhomme's first possession at home following elbow surgery, Darrell McClover blew past Nick Goings and blocked Jason Baker's punt. Brandon Lloyd scooped up the ball, and his 9-yard touchdown return quickly quieted a crowd that watched the Panthers go 2-6 at home last season.
Ex-Bear Muhsin Muhammad was Carolina's top receiver in place of Smith, catching five passes for 59 yards and surpassing 10,000 yards receiving in his career.
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