This past Sunday, The Chicago Bears faced off against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte. Both are solid NFC teams with winning records aiming to prove themselves to the rest of the league. Carolina was without their star running back Christian McCaffrey, who is widely regarded as the best in the league. Filling his role serviceably has been Mike Davis. If his name sounds familiar, it is because he spent 7 games with the Bears last year. Davis was ultimately cut after seeing very few snaps, his time was yielded to David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen. This narrative would be brought up constantly during Sunday’s game, every time Davis’s name was brought up it was almost always accompanied by a reminder that he was a former Bear. The question on everyone’s mind was if he could maintain his production enough to get revenge against his former team.
Carolina started with the ball, after two plays being swarmed by the Bears’ defense, they found themselves facing 3rd and 19 from inside their own endzone. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater tried a short pass to give their punter some room but Bears safety Teshaun Gibson Jr. made a quick interception, setting the Bears up for a 1st and Goal. Chicago’s first two attempts at a touchdown failed, prompting a timeout and a delay of game penalty. Quarterback Nick Foles was ultimately able to find rookie tight end Cole Kmet for his first career touchdown catch. Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater marched his offense deep into Bear’s territory, but a goal-line stand by Chicago’s defense held them to a field goal. Similarly, on the Bears’ first possession of the second quarter, their pursuit of the endzone was stopped just short, and they too opted for a field goal. Carolina then got some assistance from the referees, as what would have been a key interception for Chicago ended up being flagged for unnecessary roughness. This put the Panthers in the RedZone, but another goalline stop by the Bears defense forced another field goal. Foles and the offense got the ball with under two minutes to go in the half, and were able to grind out enough yardage for kicker Cairo Santos to nail a 55-yard field goal, the furthest of his career. Halftime began with the Bears holding a promising 13-6 lead.
Early in the third half, Bears safety Eddie Jackson popped the ball right out of Panthers running back Mike Davis’s hands, forcing a fumble that would be recovered by Jackson’s teammate Akiem Hicks. On the very first play after this, Nick Foles threw an ugly interception after trying to escape four Panthers defenders. The fumble was all for nothing, as Carolina came out of the sequence with a new set of downs and slightly worse field position. Thankfully for Chicago, all the momentum the Panthers gained this possession was destroyed when kicker Joey Slye missed a 54-yd field goal attempt. The Bears threw their way to a 3rd and Goal situation on the 1-yard line, where Foles snuck in for a touchdown. The Panthers began the fourth quarter with a touchdown drive to lower their deficit to just one score. With roughly 13 minutes left in the game, Chicago realized they needed points or they could risk blowing the lead. Foles and company went to work, making it all the way to the 20-yard line before opting to kick a field goal on 4th and 10. Carolina answered with a field goal of their own, Slye’s kick was good from 48 yards out. The Bears punted, and The Panthers whittled the clock down to under two minutes before turning the ball over on downs after a failed fourth-down conversion. The game should have been over there, but after an incomplete pass on 3rd and 2, the Bears had to punt again. On the very first throw of their drive, Bridgewater’s pass was intercepted by DeAndre Houston-Carson, who is normally the 3rd string safety for Chicago. His first career interception secured the victory for Chicago, as they were able to kneel until time expired. Final score: Bears win 23-16.
The Chicago Bears defense is simply incredible. This game was the third straight where they held their opponent to less than 20 points. There is so much to love, I can hardly name a single flaw. New addition Robert Quinn has allowed Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack to flourish, with both the latter players having over 3.5 sacks already this year. Defensive backs have been having a phenomenal year. Rookie corner Jaylon Johnson continues to prove himself while his partner Kyle Fuller has been delivering some of the biggest hits by a Bears DB since Doug Plank in the 1980s. New safety Tashaun Gibson has two interceptions and the third most tackles of any Bear, while star safety Eddie Jackson continues his relentless pursuit of turnovers. The linebackers have been great at stopping the run. In his third year, linebacker Roquan Smith is solidifying himself as a leader on this defense, and veteran Danny Trevathan has made up for his rough start to the season, proving why he deserved the extension he received last year. The Bears’ defense is stacked with playmakers. They have a tremendous amount of depth, with non-starters Brent Urban, James Vaughters and Bilal Nichols each recording sacks this year. The game-sealing interception coming from a third-string safety, a backup to a backup, tells you all you need to know about how scary this defensive unit is.
It was nice to see Cole Kmet get some targets this week, 2 to be exact. He caught both of them for a total of 20 yards and 1 Touchdown. His touchdown catch may just be my favorite play of the day. Facing 3rd and 10, it was crucial that the Bears score a touchdown to establish an early lead for their defense to protect. Foles throws a perfect pass to Kmet who is surrounded by Panthers defenders. There was absolutely no margin for error for either Foles’ throw or Kmet’s catch, but they made the connection. It’s almost impossible not to root for the hometown kid Cole Kmet, and I hope this touchdown is the first of many in a long, illustrious career with the Chicago Bears.
Throughout the season, and in week 6 especially, The Bears’ defense has been getting killed with undeserving penalties. The Bears are penalized 7.5 times per game on average, the second-most in the NFL behind Arizona. For reference, the league average is 5.7 penalties against per game. Sunday they were flagged 10 times, man of which were incorrect or debatable. The last time the Bears played the Panthers, Eddie Jackson recorded two defensive touchdowns in the game. He almost delivered the encore many were hoping for today, but what could have been two more touchdowns ultimately resulted in zero. On his forced fumble, if Akiem Hicks didn’t fall on it, Jackson could have easily scooped and scored. The second play was this pick-six that was negated due to a pass interference call on Kyle Fuller marking Jackson’s second called back TD this season. This decision could have been more understandable had almost that exact same situation not been called earlier. Either both plays should have been called or neither of them should have been. The most important thing for an official is consistency, and that just hasn’t been there recently. When Kyle Fuller makes another monstrous hit to force a fumble like he did last week, it’s flagged for helmet-to-helmet and not even reviewed. Fans watching at home couldn’t even see the replay for a few minutes, and by the time it was too late it was very clearly not helmet-to-helmet contact. That makes two key takeaways the Bears were robbed of, one of which would have been a touchdown. The Bears were a few bad calls away from their defense completely changing the game, and the final score margin would have been much larger.
Ultimately, the Bears shined on all sides of the ball, and that is what led them to win this week. Defense, Offense, and Special Teams were all hot, combining their efforts to defeat the Panthers, the referees, and all the doubters this week. This is easily the Bears’ second-biggest win behind Tampa Bay last week. They are 5-0 against fellow NFC teams and 0-1 against AFC opponents. This is absolutely ideal for a good team that is not guaranteed to win their division. Speaking of the division, with the Packers’ loss to the Buccaneers this week, the Bears are now in Sole possession of first place in the NFC North. This next game could be very telling, because if playoffs began today, Chicago would be the 2nd seeded team in the NFC, and they would match up against the very team the play on Monday.
The Bears are scheduled to play their second prime time game in the last two weeks. They’ll play the Los Angeles Rams at their brand-new SoFi Stadium. The Rams are in second place in the consensus best division in the NFL, The NFC West. Don’t let their 4-2 record scare you more than it should, though. LA is 4-0 against teams below .500 and 0-2 against teams .500 or above. Every one of their four wins came against each team in the NFC East, the consensus worst division in football. The combined record of those teams they’ve beaten is 5-18-1. Despite this, I am labeling this game as the Bears’ third straight “prove-it game”. The Rams roster is still pretty much intact from their 2018 Super Bowl run just two seasons ago. Their offense remains powerful under innovative young coach Sean McVay and receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Also a member of their offense is DGN alum David Edwards, who will start at left guard for the team Monday night. This will be Edwards’ second time facing his hometown team, the first being last year in a 17-7 win over Chicago on Sunday Night Football. The Bears absolutely demolished the Rams when the two met in 2018, the year LA made it to Super Bowl LIII. They lost last year thanks in part to the struggles of Mitchell Trubisky, who was benched during that game. This year, with an improved offense, new quarterback, and a defense more dominant than ever, I believe that the Bears can easily win this game and earn any respect still being withheld.