Defensive end Akiem Hicks could feel the difference. The momentum at practice Wednesday after a strong defensive performance in the Bears’ 27-24 overtime victory against the Ravens was palpable.
“The energy after a [loss] is nothing compared to the energy after a [win],” said Hicks, who had two more sacks against the Ravens to give him four for the season. “After a loss, you come back in, and you’re trying to refocus and wash that last game out of your mind. After a ‘W,’ everything just feels better. You’re ready to get even better. You’re more energized to do better than trying to get energized [after a loss].”
There’s little doubt the Bears’ defense is building momentum after allowing only three field goals against the Ravens and scoring a touchdown on safety Adrian Amos’ 90-yard interception return. The Bears allowed 291 yards and only 4.2 yards per play. In fact, if you include the 94 yards gained in field position on its two interceptions, the Bears’ defense allowed a net of two points and 197 yards against the Ravens. The Bears are ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense and eighth in passing yards per attempt.
After executing a game plan against Joe Flacco last week, the challenge this week is continuing to build that momentum against a much different opponent in Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. The 2012 No. 1 overall draft pick and 2015 league MVP is a much more dangerous threat when he’s on his game.
“Two completely different quarterbacks,” said Hicks, who was 2-5 against Newton with the Saints from 2012 to ’15. “Cam’s the type of player that can get hot and stay hot. So you want to limit his chances to do what he does well, and that’s take the momentum of the team and keep it cruising. Once he starts scoring touchdowns and opening his shirt and doing that type of stuff, that’s when his momentum and the team’s momentum are going up.”
Newton is just starting to get back in a groove after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff. He was noticeably sluggish in the Panthers’ first three games, with a 69.7 passer rating (two touchdown passes, four interceptions) in victories against the 49ers (23-3) and Bills (9-3) and a loss to the Saints (34-13).
But he was back to normal in road victories against the Patriots (130.8 rating) and Lions (141.8), throwing six touchdown passes and one interception.
“He didn’t have a normal training camp,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “In fact, we as a team didn’t have a normal training camp because [Newton] didn’t really participate until the end.
“Those first few games were like him going through training camp. You had a lot of new parts that had to learn him, and he had to learn the new parts. And now we’re starting to see it. I’m kind of excited that the guys are starting to mesh and become the fit we’re looking for. He’s still got a little bit to go, but he’s done some good things.”
Newton stumbled in a 28-23 loss to the Eagles on ‘‘Thursday Night Football,’’ throwing three interceptions. The Bears know better than to count on that Newton showing up Sunday at Soldier Field. But they are ready for what could be a timely litmus test.
“What we did against Flacco — against the Ravens — was execute,” Hicks said. “That’s what we’ve been looking forward to doing all year, having a game where we’re executing on all cylinders. I feel like we’ve gotten to that point. You’ve got to keep that feeling. Chase that moment and keep doing it.”
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