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An Early Look At The Bears-Panthers Game

Julius Peppers

Julius Peppers (Photo Credit: Getty)

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(AP) — The Chicago Bears’ inability to protect quarterback Jay Cutler led to their first loss. Fortunately for the Bears, the Carolina Panthers’ all-time sacks leader is now on their roster.

Hopeful that Cutler can return from a concussion, Chicago will try to bounce back Sunday when defensive end Julius Peppers returns to Carolina to face his winless former teammates.

The Bears (3-1) gave up a franchise-worst 10 sacks in a 17-3 loss to the New York Giants last week – an NFL-record nine coming in the first half. On that ninth sack, Cutler’s head bounced off the turf as he was taken down.

Todd Collins took over for Cutler to start the third quarter and was also knocked from the game with a stinger, replaced by Caleb Hanie. The Bears totaled 110 yards of offense, their worst output in nearly four years.

Cutler was back practicing Wednesday, participating in passing drills, although he did not address the media. He has made 57 consecutive starts.

With a 58th uncertain, first-year offensive coordinator Mike Martz is taking the blame.

“I just tried to do way too much in a short week with these guys,” he said. “Whatever went wrong in that game was my responsibility.”

Collins will start Sunday if Cutler can’t go.

While they faced one of the league’s best pass rushing teams last Sunday, the Bears draw one of the worst this week. The Panthers (0-4) have four sacks, tying them with Chicago and four other teams for next to last in the NFL.

That’s due in large part to the Bears’ signing of Peppers. The defensive end recorded 81 sacks in his first eight seasons with Carolina, then joined Chicago on a six-year, $91.5 million deal.

Peppers apparently has bad feelings toward his former team. On Wednesday, he called his departure from the Panthers “a little sour,” claiming the club tried to paint him in a bad light after deciding not to re-sign him by making it look like he wanted out of Carolina.

While Peppers’ departure has hurt the Panthers’ pass rush, he has only two sacks this season. The Bears attempted to get him some help Tuesday, cutting Mark Anderson and picking up veteran end Charles Grant, who has 47 career sacks.

“We just felt like we needed a little bit more pass rush-wise,” Smith told the team’s website. “Charles Grant’s been a player who’s been productive in the league.”

The Panthers have given up 12 sacks – six fewer than the Bears’ league-high total – and are expected to start rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen for the third time Sunday.

Despite finishing with fewer passing yards than the previous week, Clausen showed improvement Sunday after a mistake-filled debut.

Carolina scored two touchdowns in a game for the first time this season and committed one turnover at New Orleans, nearly winning before falling 16-14. One of those scores was Clausen’s first TD throw, a 55-yarder to running back Jonathan Stewart.

Clausen was 11 of 21 for 146 yards, a week after going 16 of 33 for 188 yards and committing three of the team’s four turnovers in a 20-7 loss to Cincinnati.

“I thought he made some decent throws,” coach John Fox said. “I’m sure there are some we’d like to have back and he’d like to have back. I thought his performance was better this week than it was a week ago.”

Clausen couldn’t help the Panthers avoid their worst start since losing their first seven games of 1998. Carolina has scored five touchdowns and committed 13 turnovers.

Clausen’s job may be even tougher this week with top receiver Steve Smith likely to sit out at least one game with a sprained left ankle. Smith, who suffered the injury in the third quarter last Sunday, was wearing a protective boot Monday.

“It’s day to day, just see how it goes,” Smith told the team’s website. “I’m just trying to walk. Maybe we could figure out some way … to put some cleats on the bottom (of the boot).”

The Panthers released receiver Dwayne Jarrett on Tuesday following his second DWI arrest in less than three years. Jarrett was expected to play a role Sunday with Smith banged up, but Carolina may be forced to start rookies David Gettis and Brandon LaFell at receiver to go with its first-year quarterback.

“It’s time for us to step up,” Gettis said. “We have to.”

The Panthers added receiver David Clowney off waivers from the New York Jets.

The Bears and Panthers have split four regular-season meetings with each team winning twice at home. Stewart’s two touchdown runs, the second a 1-yard plunge with 3:52 remaining, helped Carolina rally for a 20-17 victory in the last matchup Sept. 14, 2008.

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