I'm still trying to figure out exactly how the Carolina Panthers managed to lose to the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
The Panthers outgained the Bears by more than 200 yards, dominated the time of possession, won the turnover battle and held a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter.
But, somehow, the team managed to cough up the lead and throw away another winnable game, ultimately losing 23-22 on a Robbie Gould 41-yard field goal as time expired.
Overall, the Panthers defense played an exceptional game, registering six sacks and forcing Jay Cutler into four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles). After falling behind 7-0, they pitched a shutout for two-and-a-half quarters.
The Carolina offense, as usual, failed to capitalize on the opportunities provided by the defense. The only touchdown of the game came in the second quarter, and, frankly, the team was lucky to get it.
On third-and-three from the Bears nine-yard line, Cam Newton, carrying the ball like a loaf of bread, scrambled to the goal line but fumbled into the end zone. Fortunately for the Panthers, Louis Murphy was the first one to dive on the football.
From that point on, the Panthers offense, despite some nice drives, were forced to settle for five Justin Medlock field goals.
But it should have been six.
With 14 seconds remaining in the first half, Charles Johnson sacked Jay Cutler, stripped him and recovered the fumble at the Bears 39-yard line. With eight seconds left, Newton found tight end Greg Olsen for a six-yard gain, putting the Panthers in position for…
A hail mary?
In one of the most egregious coaching decisions I've ever seen at any level, Ron Rivera opted to chuck the ball into the end zone instead of attempting what potentially could have been the game-deciding 50-yard field goal.
Rivera was asked about that decision after the game.
“Well, because of the cross wind and stuff like that, that ball comes out at that point. It’s getting pushed," Rivera told the Charlotte Observer. "That was one of the concerns. We thought our best bet was to throw it into the end zone and see what happens. In hindsight, you can say that maybe we should have gone ahead and tried it. … It’s easy to second-guess at this point.”
Wow. No explanation needed.
Regardless, the Panthers took a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter, and, once again, failed to close.
Brad Nortman shanked a six-yard punt on the Panthers first fourth-quarter possession, setting up the Bears with tremendous field position.
The Panthers defense, for reasons unknown, stopped coming after the quarterback. The Bears proceeded to drive 38 yards in seven plays, capped off by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Cutler to Kellen Davis.
On the first play of the ensuing Carolina possession, Steve Smith slipped on an out route and Cam Newton's pass came right to Chicago defensive back Tim Jennings, who ran 25 yards untouched for an uncontested score. Josh Norman was able to intercept the two-point conversion attempt, but the damage was done.
The 12-point lead had evaporated faster than a rain shower on an Alabama blacktop.
While the Panthers were able to briefly recapture a one-point advantage on a 45-yard Medlock field goal, they left the Bears with more than two minutes to win the game.
It was too easy.
In another mind-boggling coaching blunder, Sean McDermott's defense dropped into a soft zone, leaving Brandon Marshall open on underneath routes.
Marshall caught passes of 8,7,11 and 10 yards on that final drive and the Bears effortlessly marched into field-goal range.
Robbie Gould drove the stake through the Panthers' hearts when his 41-yarder split the uprights as time expired.
The listless Carolina Panthers will attempt to halt a five-game losing streak and capture that elusive second win against the Washington Redskins next Sunday.
· Cam Newton finished 20-for-39 for 314 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
· Jonathan Stewart led the Panthers in rushing with 42 yards on 17 carries.
· Steve Smith led the Panthers in receiving with seven catches for 118 yards.
· Greg Hardy recorded five tackles and three sacks.
· Charles Johnson recorded three tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
· Jay Cutler finished 19-for-28 for 187 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
· Matt Forte led the Bears with 15 carries for 70 yards and a score.
· Brandon Marshall led the Bears with nine catches for 98 yards. He had four catches for 36 yards on the final drive of the game.
· The Panthers employed pooch and squib kicks all game to keep the ball away from Devin Hester on kickoffs.
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