In 2010 the Bears won a bunch of close games and every single week someone would utter that they "didn't deserve to win." It's become a running joke around these parts that the Bears are always 0-16 in the deserved to win standings. I've never accepted that. This is the NFL. Not all offensive and defensive schemes are built the same, and yardage totals, etc. are insignifcant. In this case...well, damn. The Panthers dominated the Bears in all three phases for 3 1/2 quarters and lost. Tough luck, guys. But once again, this is the NFL. No one's going to have sympathy for you.
The Bears were bloodied and bruised for most of the game. The offensive line couldn't pass-block against the most basic four man rushes for the entire first half. Jay looked hesitant, underthrew an interception, and held the ball too long on back-to-back sacks, including a fumble that set up Carolina's first touchdown. The receivers dropped five passes, including one absolutely brutal one by Spaeth that nearly killed me. The defense struggled to contain Newton and allowed the big plays for the first time all year. No one should act like aren't some reasons for concern, but....
...the Bears came back to win. They stopped allowing sacks. Mike Tice discovered the quick slant. Even when Carolina finally shut down the Bears run game (without Mike Tice shutting it down himself, of course, more on that later), they still found a way to move the ball. Cutler and Marshall hooked up several times on a game winning drive that left me thinking "man, this drive would have been 4 & out with forced passes to Johnny Knox and Devin Hester." Jay Cutler, a week after he should have silenced all of the bullshit about his lack of toughness once and for all, added to his reputation with three great late drives to win the game (sure, Robbie missed, but it was still a good drive). The defense finally made the kind of play we just expect them to make now, with Tim Jennings getting the franchise record 6th pick six of the year. When you look at the numbers and do the math, you'll be hard-pressed to figure out how the Bears won, but they did, and here they are at 6-1 on their way to Tennessee.
Red Zone Defense: Hard to single out any member of the defense for consistently good play, since the Panthers moved the ball better than anyone has against this team so far, but the red zone defense kept the Bears in this game. Carolina had multiple opportunities to score the game-clinching touchdown and the defense stopped them every single time.
Tim Jennings: Added two interceptions for a career high six, and gave the Bears the lead late with his pick six. Love this guy.
Jay Cutler: Everything was a disaster in the first half. Jay was hit (and yes, the interception is on him and so were 2 of the sacks, including the fumble) and sacked 6 times. He was just 4 of 9 in the first two quarters. Jay, however, bounced back. He overcame the sacks. He overcame the drops (five of them. Again. Five). In the final 17 minutes of the game he was 14/16 for 141 yds and a TD. He is, as Erik noted, the best 4th quarter passer in the league right now, and he won the game for the Bears.
Matt Forte: He had 61 yards on 8 carries in the first half. The problem with that is that he got EIGHT CARRIES IN THE FIRST HALF. Goddammit, Tice. Either way, Matt now has over 400 yards in his last three games against the Panthers.
Offensive Line: I'm not even sure who gets the blame for all of these. I've already put two of them on Cutler, and I believe Webb got beat for at least one sack in the first half. This kind of effort is just plain terrifying, since the offensive line seemed to be progressing really well before 11 sacks allowed in the last two weeks. Get it together.
Defensive Line: They got just two sacks and allowed Cam Newton to get outside several times. Not the kind of effort they needed to have to keep this offense in Check.
Mike Tice: What the hell, Mike? What the hell? Matt Forte was shredding the Panthers and Tice couldn't be bothered to run it more than twice in a row. If you want to have a truly great running game you have to commit to it, and you have to be willing to keep at it even on 2nd and 8. You certainly don't go empty backfield on second down when there's years of statistics showing that that formation is death under all circumstances for this team. Also, if you want to mix runs and passes, why the hell do you wait until the fourth quarter to throw in some goddamn slant passes? I know the drops aren't your fault and that broke up the rhythm, but if you didn't try to throw it downfield on every pass you might be more effective at moving the chains.
Drops: Again, five drops. Spaeth's was definitely the most brutal, but Hester's was terrible as well. Marshall made up his two with some huge catches late. The rest of you need to think about what you've done.
Ron Rivera: why so serious? Who has watched Devin Hester this year and decided they need to be scared of him that you hand the Bears the ball at midfield on nearly every possession? Poor call, Ron.
Cam Newton's Critics: Oh man. Really? You're going to light into him for not running down to celebrate with Louis Murphy on a play where he actually was hurt? How stupid. Cam wasn't great today. He racked up a lot of yards downfield but his accuracy was spotty when it mattered and he had two bad interceptions, but he's clearly not the problem on this team.
That's all for now. Next week the Bears have to go down and face a not-terrible Titans squad on the road. They'll need to get it cleaned up and start playing four quarters of offensive football. They're certainly going to need it in the second half of the season. This is their chance to build that momentum.