By Adam Hoge-
SOLDIER FIELD (CBS) The Bears deserve a lot of credit for playing through a sluggish game and pulling out a win, but that doesn’t mean they grade out well. Here are my grades following their 23-22 victory over the Panthers Sunday:
This grade was headed straight for an ‘F’ until the Bears got things going late. Jay Cutler played poorly for the majority of the first three quarters before completing 14 of his last 16 passes. His interception into triple-coverage on the first drive of the game served as a good punt, but it was a bad decision and stalled a promising start. The pass protection was poor in the first half, but Cutler held onto the ball too long as well. After allowing six sacks in the first half, the offensive line allowed zero in the second.
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The run blocking was inconsistent for the most part, but Matt Forte still managed to finish with 70 yards on just 15 carries (4.7 yards/carry). Brandon Marshall is arguably carrying the offense right now, finishing with nine catches for 98 yards, including four for 36 yards on the Bears game-winning field goal drive. Earl Bennett provided a needed boost with three catches for 47 yards.
This is still a unit that needs to get better. Slow starts to games are going to result in losses against teams better than the Panthers.
This was probably the Bears’ worst performance of the season defensively, but the unit still came up with the big plays and big stops to earn a win.
The Panthers racked up 416 total yards and the Bears benefited from Cam Newton’s erratic play. He missed plenty of throws, including what should have been a touchdown pass to Steve Smith on the Panthers’ last drive. Instead, they settled for a field goal.
But that was theme of the game: the Panthers settling for field goals. A better team probably breaks it wide open, but the Bears defense made the necessary stops, only allowing one touchdown. And once again the unit came up with a touchdown of their own as Tim Jennings picked off Cam Newton and returned it for a touchdown, giving the Bears a 20-19 lead in the fourth quarter. Jennings can give an assist to the Soldier Field turf, which tripped up Steve Smith, but he still made the play and out-ran Smith to the end zone.
Special Teams: B
There weren’t many opportunities for Devin Hester to do anything as the Panthers stayed away from him on kickoffs. But just the threat of Hester paid off Sunday as the Bears constantly had good field position with short kicks. It was good to see Hester run up and catch his first punt return and then run straight ahead instead of sideways. On his second return, he had nowhere to go so he tried to make something happen East-West. No problem with that.
Robbie Gould’s missed 33-yard field goal hurt, but he made up for it with the 41-yard game-winner as time expired.
Punter Adam Podlesh was solid all game.
Lovie Smith’s timeout on 3rd-and-8 late in the second quarter nearly cost the Bears points when the Panthers converted. It didn’t make much sense considering the Bears were going nowhere on offense and got the ball first in the second half.
Mike Tice’s game plan was confusing for most of the game, but he had a great fourth quarter when he went to shorter passes. When the Panthers stuck with the same coverage over and over again on the Bears’ last drive, Tice countered with easy slants to Brandon Marshall. No. 15 said after the game that they had a play ready for Earl Bennett up the middle if the Panthers changed coverages.
Whenever there is a lack of execution in “letdown” performances, the coaching staff has to take some of the blame for the team not being prepared to go. Deserved or not, Smith blamed himself after the game for the team not being “ready to play.”
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.