CHICAGO – Veteran wide receiver Earl Bennett stood at his locker Sunday and summarized a long afternoon filled with short drives for the Bears’ offense.
“It was very frustrating,” Bennett said. “We really couldn’t get anything going.”
Oh, and by the way, the Bears won.
Good teams learn from their mistakes, and the Bears had plenty from which to learn in a 23-22 win against the Carolina Panthers. Robbie Gould drilled a 41-yard field goal into a crosswind as time expired to lift the Bears (6-1), who erased a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win their fifth consecutive game and remain atop the NFC North.
As the Bears celebrated on the field, the Panthers (1-6) walked off with their fifth straight loss.
“I am running out of ways to describe this,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
It might be equally difficult to describe the Bears’ trajectory after seven games.
Is the defense capable of scoring touchdowns at historic proportions throughout the season? Tim Jennings’ 25-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Bears a 20-19 lead and marked the defense’s sixth touchdown of the season, a franchise record.
Is the offense capable of producing better results against better defenses than the Panthers, who entered the game ranked No. 21 in total defense? The Bears’ first eight drives included one touchdown, one interception, two lost fumbles, three punts and a missed field goal.
Fortunately for the Bears, their last two drives culminated with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler to Kellen Davis and a game-winning field goal by Gould. The Bears won despite being outgained in total yards by almost two-to-one by the Panthers, 416-210.
“During the course of the year, you’re going to go through games like this when it’s tough,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “You’ve got to really just fight to get a win. But the good teams, at the end, find a way to win – like this – when you didn’t play your best ball for 60 minutes.”
Better ball will be needed next week when the Bears visit the Tennessee Titans, and in Week 10 when they host the Houston Texans, and in Week 11 when they visit the San Francisco 49ers. Seven of the Bears’ final eight opponents entered the weekend with a winning record.
Yet, give Cutler and his teammates credit for resiliency.
After Gould missed a 33-yard field goal attempt with 12:09 remaining in the game, the Panthers maintained a 19-7 lead and appeared to be on their way to a surprise victory. But the Bears’ defense forced a three-and-out, the offense drove 38 yards for Davis’ touchdown, and the defense came up big with Jennings’ interception and score against Cam Newton.
The Panthers regained the lead, 22-20, on a 45-yard field goal by Justin Medlock. The Bears’ offense took over at their 22-yard line with 2:27 remaining, and Cutler marched his teammates down the field by completing six of seven passes for 52 yards on the final drive.
“We had a lot of time,” Cutler said of the final series. “They were playing one-coverage, and we just kept hitting them and hitting them and hitting them.”
Perhaps a narrow win against an inferior team should not be cause for concern. The NFL’s last remaining undefeated team, the Atlanta Falcons, squeaked out a two-point win at home against the Panthers in Week 4. The division rival Green Bay Packers (5-3) had a tough time Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars before eventually winning by nine.
Good teams win ugly games along with lovely games.
Good teams forget about the previous mistake and focus on the next play.
“I think our whole offense is like that,” Bears running back Matt Forte said. “When there’s mistakes going on in the first half – actually, through the third quarter – you’ve got to be resilient as an offense. You can’t be like, ‘Well, it’s not working, so I’m going to quit now.’
“You’ve got to keep working at it, and eventually, you’ve got to execute it and make it work.”
• Tom Musick covers Chicago professional sports for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.