Although he had started already this season, most of the rookie pressure rested squarely on Jimmy Clausen. He knew the team and fans were desperate for a win; he knew this was a great time to earn the trust and respect of everyone in the organization; and he knew Peppers and the entire Chicago front line would be gunning for him from the first snap.
Clausen stood up to the challenge, as usual, but the results were subpar.
Clausen had a minimal workload on the first drive as the Panthers handed it off eight straight times to DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart en route to a John Kasay field goal. After the Bears answered with a 68-yard Matt Forte touchdown run, Clausen was called upon to move the ball through the air.
WR Armanti Edwards
Clausen's first two attempts sum up his two major technical difficulties right now. Throughout training camp, in the preseason, and now during the regular season, Clausen has not been able to master the exchange with the center. In addition, Peppers' tip of Clausen's pass was not an unfamiliar sight; Clausen's passes have been tipped multiple times in every game he's started.
Clausen must improve on and perfect these two minor yet crucial details of his game, because the repercussions can be crippling. Despite Clausen's three fumles (all of which were recovered by the offense), he still had plenty of chances to prove himself and lead the team to victory. One such opportunity came with five minutes to go in the third quarter. The Panthers were down 17-3 and the game was still in doubt. Charles Godfrey had just intercepted Todd Collins and the Panthers started the following drive on the Chicago 43-yard line.
The very next play, fellow rookie Brandon LaFell broke free in the middle of the field and found himself wide open streaking to the end zone. Clausen spotted him, perhaps a second too late, and heaved the ball seemingly as hard as he could to the end zone. LaFell tried to adjust, but it was impossible as the ball fell almost 10 yards short of its target. Clausen had missed probably his best opportunity of the day and one that would have certainly changed the momentum of the game.
Clausen seemed to lose any confidence or poise he may have had for the rest of the day. While that drive did lead to a field goal, Clausen was sacked twice on the next drive. On his final drive of the day, Clausen threw three straight incompletions before being replaced by Matt Moore.
At the post-game press conference, Clausen's first question was: "Was this your worst game ever, even dating back to Pop Warner football?" Clausen said no, but it certainly seemed that way for the fans. Clausen finished the day 9-of-22 for 61 yards and one interception.
One of the reasons Clausen was thrust into the starting spot so early was his coolness under pressure and decision-making ability. Neither of these qualities showed up at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday. Clausen looked rattled, confused and missed his receivers more as the game carried on.
While Clausen doesn't have the best supporting cast, especially with three rookie receivers also playing prominent roles, he still showed he has a longer-than-anticipated journey before he becomes an NFL-caliber quarterback.
Other Rookie Notes
--Sunday didn't provide many exciting offensive plays, but two came from the Mountaineer Package with Armanti Edwards running the offense. While the two plays only earned a net 1 yard, it was still a spark to a struggling offense.
Edwards said after the game the offense only runs two plays in practice with this package. The team may add more over the bye week.
Edwards passed for more than 10,000 yards and 73 touchdowns with a 65 percent completion rate at Appalachian State. While these numbers were amassed in the FCS, they are still outstanding and the coaches may want to give Edwards more opportunities to show off his passing ability.
--David Gettis out-performed LaFell again with three catches for 32 yards to LaFell's one catch for 16 yards. LaFell dropped multiple passes throughout the day and it is becoming more clear that Gettis is the more reliable target.
--Greg Hardy chalked up one of the two Panther sacks on the day. It was the first sack of Hardy's career.
--Jordan Pugh got the start on Sunday and joined the pick-party as he came down with one of the four interceptions for the Panthers defense.
Alex Montgomery is a graduate of Western Carolina University with a degree in Professional Writing. He has worked for the Western Carolinian and his hometown newspaper, the Kernersville News. He currently resides in Charlotte, NC. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.