Bears stave off Newton, Panthers

550700.jpg

Bears stave off Newton, Panthers

Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011Posted: 3:15 p.m. Updated: 9:15 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Box score Photo gallery
15 on 6: Run game provides great victory
READ: Hester, Forte receive highest mark
Gameday Blog: 'Devin Hester, you're ridiculous!'
Cutler: Still trying to find out identity
Lovie: Teams may stop kicking to Hester
Moon: On the Bears victory over Carolina
Miller: Shows his praise for Newton

So much for Ron Riveras storybook return to Soldier Field.

Pounding on the ground as they havent done all season, the Bears (2-2) withstood another outstanding show by rookie quarterback Cam Newton to put down the Carolina Panthers 34-29 for as close to a must-win as any fourth game of a Bears season can be.

We wanted to be 4-0, said quarterback Jay Cutler, who had one of the lightest passing workloads of his career with 17 passing attempts. We feel like we gave our two Ls away but were happy where were at. Theres a lot of football left to play.

The win halted a two-game slide that suddenly placed the Bears season in some peril, given a road game against the surging Detroit Lions (4-0) next Monday night. The Lions won in Dallas with a comeback against the over-hyped Cowboys and Tony Romo Sunday and the Bears could not afford to fall any further behind the Lions and Green Bay Packers at the end of the first quarter of the 2011 season.

A defeat would have put the Bears in serious jeopardy with the season just one-fourth over. They lost four games all last season in the NFC; a defeat vs. Carolina would have been the third this season and created potential problems with wild-card scenarios unless the Bears managed a reversal, which Sundays win may have been.

The Bears went to the ground early and for most of the game, including 13 of their first 14 plays. Behind an offensive line forced to shuffle personnel, the Bears sprung tailback Matt Forte for repeated big gains and punched in from the 3-yard line with less than two minutes remaining on a Marion Barber burst over left guard. The resulting 34-23 advantage and security they have not felt since the opening week of the season.

The defense provided points with a 20-yard return of an interception by nickel back D.J. Moore. That was supplemented by Devin Hesters history making punt return in the second quarter.

A key to the rushing effectiveness Sunday Forte finished with 205 rushing yards on 25 carries, making him just the third back in franchise history to run for 200 yards in a game was adjustments made virtually every series to answer scheming done by the Carolina front seven.

Coach Mike Tice and coach Mike Martz came up with a great run plan, said guard Chris Williams. They knew what they wanted to do coming in. Every time they countered us, we came right back with something.

Difference-making

It was not a dominating win in all areas, although each of the Bears three phases scored at least once. The Panthers and Newton blew through the Bears for 438 yards in three quarters and trailed just 24-23.

Carolina added a field goal in the fourth quarter and a late touchdown on a pass from Newton to former Bear Greg Olsen with four seconds remaining. The Bears overcame that with the Barber touchdown run with 1:23 remaining after Robbie Gould converted from 24 yards.

Carolina finished with 543 total yards to the Bears 317.

I dont really care because we won, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. Ill be pissed off when we watch the film but right now, we won, so its not a big deal to me.
Early explosions
With scores from all three phases, the Bears got out to a 24-10 lead in the second quarter. Forte scored on a 17-yard run. Moore went 20-yards to score after intercepting a deflected Newton pass. Hester made NFL history with his 69-yard return of a second-quarter punt for a touchdown, the 11th of his career and most by any player in league annals.

The Forte touchdown was also the first Bears rushing TD of this season.

You get lucky if you can win with two phases, or one phase, said coach Lovie Smith. The best way to almost guarantee a win is if all three phases are working. For us, looking at our history, thats normally been the case, especially when we have at least two.

Newton kept the Panthers at least in the discussion with a pair of short touchdown carries in the first half, the second a 2-yard carry that was followed by an Olindo Mare field goal to bring Carolina back to 24-20 at halftime.

But the Bears were not stopping the Carolina offense, which was trampling the Bears defense. The Panthers totaled 299 yards in just the first half; worse, it came on 100 rushing yards and 199 on Newton passing, meaning the Bears were not stopping much of anything.

The Panthers scored on four of six first-half possessions, one ending in an interception and only one in a punt.
Pound it early

As they had not done in any game this season, the Bears brought the hammer. Every play in the opening drive, for a field goal, was a running play, including a highlight trip around the right side by Forte for 45 yards. Barber marked his first appearance as a Bear by giving Forte the next two downs to rest and picking up 12 yards on the two carries.

Cutler even got into the spirit of things with a third-down carry from an empty backfield. He didnt score but the pattern was being established.

We knew as an offense that we can run the ball, Forte said. We just had to establish that first and continue to do that throughout the game.

Moore continued his mastery of the deflected pass, picking off a ball intended for wideout Legedu Naanee but tipped by linebacker Lance Briggs. Moore reacted out of his zone coverage on the short left to gather in the ball and pick his way through Panthers for a 20-yard touchdown, the second by the defense in four games after Urlachers TD return of a fumble in week one.

The Panthers immediately took advantage of a blown coverage by free safety Brandon Meriweather, who failed to provide deep support behind Tim Jennings after Jennings handed off Steve Smith on a deep route. The 53-yard completion was turned into a touchdown when Newton bootlegged around the right side to score from two yards out.

The Bears opened their game with eight consecutive runs, the last a quarterback draw by Cutler from an empty backfield, to go from their 20 to the Carolina 3, from where Gould converted his seventh straight field goal of the year, from 20 yards for a 3-3 mark midway through the first quarter.

Bad D start

For the second week in a row, the initial problem for the Bears was not their offense, but their defense. The Green Bay Packers started their win over the Bears with an 80-yard touchdown drive after the opening kickoff; the Panthers went 65 yards in 10 plays to set up a 29-yard field goal from Mare.

The drive might have netted a touchdown but for two penalties on former Bear Olsen, who started the Panthers possession with a false start and then was flagged for holding inside the Chicago 10 to push Carolina back out of TD range.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

So Jordan Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing in his rookie season, despite just a dozen carries in the first three games. The fifth-round pick joined the man who beat him out for the rushing title, Ezekiel Elliott, as one of just five rookies in history to average five or more yards per carry on over 250 carries. And he set the Bears' rookie rushing record with his 1,313 yards while becoming just the fourth in franchise history to rush for that many yards in a season.

Sounds pretty hard to top, like we might be set up for the dreaded sophomore slump.

But...

"Things are a lot different this year because I know what to expect," Howard said during the team's minicamp two weeks ago. "I know all the plays and things like that. I’m not out there thinking, so I can just play free and fast.

"I definitely feel like a veteran 'cause I know what to expect and can help the young guys on the plays that they're not understanding. I’m just more comfortable and want to be a leader."

One of the other things we learned about Howard last year is he's low-key, a man of few words. So the Indiana product by way of UAB will make his points verbally when needed, but his actions will speak louder.

"He was a rookie a year ago and didn't even go in trying to be a leader, telling a five-year guy what was up," said head coach John Fox. "I think with time, and obviously with production like he had, I think it's a role he can fall in to. We're in a performance-based business and even in that locker room, what they do on Sundays gives them some credibility."

One of the concerns about Howard coming out of college was durability, but he answered the bell once he became the starter in week four against Detroit. And he probably wasn't used nearly as much as he should have. The good news about that is he was subject to less wear and tear, averaging just 18 carries per game from that Lions game on.

But besides taking more of a leadership role, Howard wanted to work on his speed without sacrificing the strong base that, paired with keen vision and work by the offensive line, allowed him to hit holes quickly and charge toward the second level of opposing defenses.

"Just improving on the little things – my conditioning, my weight, catching passes. And looking for ways to finish runs better," says Howard. "I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up."

"It's just training," said Fox. "When you get to that it's more like track speed than football speed and I think he proved pretty worthy of that a year ago as a rookie. Y'know we all can improve on things, and that's the expectation. He's trained hard.

"This time of year last year he wasn’t even practicing," Fox remembered. "I like where we are, we’ve brought in more competition, and he’s better for it. He’s kind of gotten used to an NFL season, he’s come back ready to roll, but he still has work to do before we get to training camp."  

Oh, and the 22-year-old has a couple of other goals he didn't mind sharing, besides being a leader and getting a little faster.

"First off, make the playoffs. Be the leading rusher, and just help the team in any way I can and stay consistent."

Did Brandon Marshall disrespect Jay Cutler with Hall of Fame shade?

Did Brandon Marshall disrespect Jay Cutler with Hall of Fame shade?

Brandon Marshall is no stranger to keeping it real.

The outspoken All-Pro receiver never minces his words and that continued over the weekend when he showed off his signed jersey collection.

Marshall took to Instagram and showed off "Santa" hanging all of the jerseys he's swapped with other NFL players:

Santa doing work.. . #jerseychallenge

A post shared by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshall) on

The list includes a host of current and future Hall of Fame players: Champ Bailey, Cris Carter, John Lynch, Darrelle Revis, Lance Briggs, Adam Vinatieri, Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Joe Thomas.

When almost all the framed jerseys were hung, Marshall took his followers through:

@nfl #jerseychallenge

A post shared by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshall) on

Marshall compliments each player before, calling them "Hall of Famers" before getting to Jay Cutler at the end and going "Hall of..." multiple times.

Was that Marshall throwing shade at his former quarterback in both Denver and Chicago? If it was an innocent mistake or whatever, there's no way Marshall would've posted the Instagram video, right?

Marshall and Cutler were good friends from the beginning of their careers with the Broncos. So much so that the Bears traded a pair of third round draft picks in March 2012 to allow the two to continue their bromance by the lake:

But Marshall and Cutler have had a contentious relationship since.

Last summer, Marshall responded to a Tweet saying "of course" he misses Cutler. Last August, Marshall hopped on ESPN's First Take and said he thought Cutler could win the MVP Award in the 2016 NFL season.

At the same time, Marshall talked about his relationship with Cutler and said he was the only person on the Bears with the "huevos" to hold the enigmatic quarterback accountable. Marshall also said he was "sad" he didn't talk to Cutler much in the year leading up to August 2016.