The Bears found an impressive winning formula in Sunday’s 34-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers — rushing 31 times for 224 yards and scoring on offense, defense and special teams. But even if your glass is half-full, it remains to be seen if it will work on better teams than the Carolina Panthers.
And even against Carolina, it was a struggle. The Bears allowed 543 total yards and weren’t in the clear until Matt Forte’s 40-yard run to the Panthers’ 3-yard line set up Marion Barber’s three-yard touchdown that gave the Bears a 34-23 lead with 1:23 to play.
”You know you could play better and you know you should do better. That’s pretty much what it is,” said cornerback D.J. Moore, whose 19-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Bears a 10-3 lead in the first quarter. ”Even though we won, we kind of didn’t play up to our standards. But we won.”
”A win’s a win,” linebacker Brian Urlacher said. ”It may not have been the way we wanted to. But we came out on top and that’s always the big thing. It’s hard to win in the NFL. There are no easy games. Our offense came through when they had to today and we pulled it out.”
Though the Bears failed to cover the 6 1/2-point spread, there was a lot to like in the victory that evened their record at 2-2:
— Forte had another career day, rushing for 205 yards on 25 carries (8.2 yards per carry) and a 17-yard touchdown that gave the Bears a 17-10 lead in the second quarter. Only Walter Payton (275 yards vs. the Vikings in 1977) has rushed for more in one game in Bears history. And only Payton (205 yards at Green Bay in 1977) and Gale Sayers (205 at Green Bay in 1968) have gained as many yards on one game.
— Devin Hester set an NFL record with his 11th career punt return for a touchdown, scoring on a 69-yard return to give the Bears a 24-10 lead in the second quarter. Earlier in the quarter he had a 73-yard kickoff return from nine yards deep in the end zone. Hester has 17 returns for touchdowns in 85 career NFL games.
— Julius Peppers blocked a 34-yard field goal attempt by Olindo Mare in the third quarter with the Bears leading 24-20. It was the Bears’ 21st blocked kick in Dave Toub’s eight seasons as special teams coordinator. Peppers has 10 in his career, two of them with the Bears.
Still, even with all that, in the big picture the Bears seemed to work awful hard to beat the Carolina Panthers at home. Though the Bears had a reinvigorated running game (31 carries, 224 yards, two touchdowns), their defense allowed Carolina to gain 169 rushing yards on 26 carries, including six runs of 10 yards or more.
They handled rookie quarterback Cam Newton (27-of-46, 374 yards, one touchdown, one interception, 83.1 rating) as well as the Packers did. But Steve Smith beat them fro eight receptions for 181 yards.
And most of all, Jay Cutler struggled to even manage the game. Cutler threw no passes in the first quarter, four in the first half and was 9-of-17 for 102 yards. And he put the Bears’ lead in peril in the fourth quarter when he was intercepted by safety Charles Godfrey after an overthrow to tight end Kyle Adams. That gave the Panthers possession at the Bears 29, trailing 24-23.
The Panthers had the momentum, but squandered it. An illegal formation penalty on an eight-yard gain by DeAngelo Williams out of the Wildcat formation led to a missed 52-yard field goal by Olindo Mare that came up just short with 13:23 to play.
The Bears defense at least played well when pushed to the brink. After Cutler’s interception, the defensive line stepped up its pressure on Newton, who was 3-of-10 for 24 yards as the Panthers were held to 28 yards on 11 plays over three possessions with a chance to take the lead.
”We played good enough to win. That’s all the really matters,” Urlacher said. ”But not up to our standards.”
”We got after [Newton], and that’s a combination of coaching and the players saying, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” Israel Idonije said. ”He’s a talented guy. Even with everybody playing a little more solid he was able to make plays. Give credit where it’s due. Fortunately, we’re talented enough to bow up and get resilient when we needed to.”
That will mean more if the Bears can repeat it next Monday night against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. All the Bears did Sunday was hold serve.