Carolina 31, Chicago 24: Three Things We Learned
After a dismal two weeks, Carolina bounced back with a huge victory Sunday, topping Chicago 31-24. Luke Kuechly and the Panthers defense got back on track in the second half amidst widespread criticism following two blowout losses. Cam Newton and Greg Olsen got back on track against a questionable Chicago defense, and the bad Jay Cutler struck again for the Bears.
Here are three things we learned in this game.
JAY CUTLER'S INCONSISTENCY WILL NEVER CHANGE
Jay Cutler is one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the NFL. His arm strength, size, and mobility in the pocket and in the open field put him in the upper echelon of quarterbacks. Unfortunately for the Bears, Cutler's mental lapses make him do things that leave you scratching your head. Cutler tossed two second-half interceptions that proved to be costly, as Carolina outscored Chicago 17-0 to steal the victory. Chicago is now just 4-18 when Cutler throws at least 2 interceptions in a game. Having just signed Cutler to a seven-year contract with $54-million guaranteed, Marc Trestman and the rest of the Bears organization will have to find a way to keep the veteran from self-destructing, which at this point seems will never happen with Cutler being in his ninth season in the league.
SPECIAL TEAMS PROVE TO BE PIVOTAL
When your offense struggles, winning field position and being solid in the kicking game almost become second natrue. Coaches and players rattle off the same old coachspeak with regularity, leaving many fans and critics wondering why the coach won't just lay it out there that the team struggles on offense. Sunday, Carolina was sound on special teams, and it resulted in one of the most unusual scores of the season. Following Chicago's first possession, Philly Brown was fielding a punt, when he was blasted by a Chicago defender before making the catch. As a pile of players scrambled for the loose ball, Brown found it and scooped the ball up and scampered 79 yards to give Carolina a 7-0 lead.
As the game went on, Carolina's offense couldn't sustain any momentum early. Punter Brand Nortman averaged 48 yards per kick, including two inside Chicago's 20-yard line, helping the Panthers' defense stay in the game. With just under 2 minutes left in the first half, the seemingly automatic Robbie Gould missed a 35-yard field goal attempt, giving Carolina some life. When asked about the missed kick, linebacker Luke Kuechly said, "It's a victory...it's a momentum-shifter." Cam Newton engineered a masterful drive, connecting with Greg Olsen to make the halftime score 21-14.
NO HUDDLE, NO PROBLEM
Carolina found their groove offensively Sunday, scoring 30 points for the first time this season. Late in the first half, Cam Newton began to utilize the no-huddle offense, something that has helped the young signal caller in his career. With the ability to come down the field and make the defense react rather than dictact their pace, the Panthers carved up Chicago with an easy 75-yard scoring drive. The Panthers' rushing attack was stagnant again, as Chris Ogbonnaya and Darrin Reaves combined for just 59 yards against a porous Bears defensive front. Greg Olsen stepped up for Carolina against his former team. The tight end snagged six passes for 72 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner with just 2:18 remaining on the clock.
When asked how the no-huddle helped the offense, Olsen was quick to point out its benefit for the Panthers.
"We got in the huddle and said, `That's our break.' We were waiting for something to bounce our way and that was it. We went right down and bang, bang. ... Cam got in an awesome groove and from that point on he was on fire."