The Carolina Panthers certainly made some changes this week – they fired their general manager and significantly changed their running game. But the ultimate result was the same, as the Panthers lost 23-22 to the Chicago Bears on a 41-yard field goal from Chicago’s Robbie Gould on the game’s last play.
The Panthers (1-6) wasted a lot of good work and a 19-7 lead entering the fourth quarter. They are now 1-10 in games decided by seven points or less under coach Ron Rivera. Chicago is 6-1 this season.
Justin Medlock made five field goals for Carolina – including a 45-yarder that banged off the right upright and in with 2:27 to go – to give the Panthers a 22-20 lead. That field goal followed the Bears taking a 20-19 lead.
Chicago then got the ball down 22-20 for a final drive, needing a field goal to win. With the Panthers playing soft zone coverage, Chicago easily completed several short passes in a row. That set up Gould’s 41-yard field-goal attempt, which he banged home after missing another shorter field goal earlier in the quarter.
The game really changed, however, when the Bears scored two touchdowns in a span of eight seconds in the fourth quarter Sunday, erasing a 19-7 Carolina lead in stunning fashion.
Down 19-7 to begin the fourth quarter, the Bears missed a field goal but finally got to the end zone on a Cutler TD pass to Kellen Davis. That cut the Carolina lead to 19-14 with 6:52 to go.
The Bears then kicked the kickoff into the end zone. On the first play from his own 20, Cam Newton threw a sideline pass toward Steve Smith. But Smith slipped on the route and cornerback Tim Jennings caught the ball and danced 25 yards down the sideline for a startling TD. Chicago missed the two-point conversion when Josh Norman intercepted the pass, but the Bears still led 20-19 with 6:44 to go.
The Panthers promised changes in the wake of general manager Marty Hurney’s firing, and there certainly were some. The zone-read option – the slow-developing play where Newton sticks the ball into the running back’s stomach and then decides whether or not to pull it away – was abolished. The Panthers ran a much more traditional running game, although it was really no more effective.
But the Panthers’ defense was very good – until the fourth quarter and especially on the final drive, when they played way too soft and couldn’t get to Cutler at all.
In the first half, Carolina sacked Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler six times (three by Greg Hardy) and rattled him into three turnovers (two lost fumbles and an interception). The Bears left the field at halftime down 13-7 and to a chorus of boos, and Cutler appeared to be caught on TV cameras angrily mouthing something about those boos.
The Panthers gained far more yardage than Chicago (416-210) but couldn’t score TDs. Their only one came on Louis Murphy’s fortunate and alert fumble recovery of Newton’s fumble at the Chicago 1 in the second quarter. But Medlock had a huge day after only kicking two field goals all season prior to Sunday.
But Chicago had the last-minute answer as the Panthers found a way to lose – again – after playing one of their best games of the season.