5 Things We Learned: Bears-Panthers
1. Matt Forte may be elite after all: The Bears don't view Forte as elite, or at least they didn't when contract extension talks broke down between the two sides prior the start of the regular season. But shouldn't the Bears re-visit the idea of inking Forte to a new deal and increase the amount of guaranteed money by a few million? Surely, the Bears can present Forte with a better offer than a six-year deal that contains between $13-$14 million in guarantees. After all, Forte is the offense, not quarterback Jay Cutler, who remains a huge wildcard moving forward. Carolina's $21 million dollar man DeAngelo Williams rushed for 82 yards on Sunday. Forte set a career high with 205 yards on the ground. Through four games, Forte has 634 all-purpose yards, which puts him on pace for 2,536 for the season. What else does Forte have to do to get paid?
2. Expect the Bears to struggle against tougher teams: It's a banner day in the NFL whenever a team records a victory, and the Bears have nothing to apologize about after the Carolina win. But let's be real: when a team scores a defensive touchdown, a special teams touchdown, blocks a field goal, has a 73-yard kickoff return and features a 200-yard rusher, they should win that game by 30 points. Instead, the Bears had to fend off a Panthers squad, that while certainly exciting and improved, probably isn't going to contend for a playoff berth in the NFC. Tough road match-ups are ahead versus Detroit, Tampa, Philadelphia and Oakland, plus home dates against the Lions and San Diego. I feel comfortable saying the Bears will need to play much better to be victorious in the majority of those games.
3. Teams continue to tempt fate: Why would anybody kick to Devin Hester? Hester's brilliance in the return game was a big reason the Bears were able to knock off the feisty Panthers. Not only did he take back a punt 69 yards for a touchdown -- Hester's record-setting 11th career punt return for a score -- but his 73-yard kickoff return set up a second quarter score by Forte. On top of that, Julius Peppers was able to block a 34-yard field goal attempt which turned out to be a key moment in the game. That's 21 blocked kicks since Dave Toub came to town in 2004. Add it all up, and it just shows special teams does its part nearly every week. You really can't say the same for the other two phases.
4. The story remains the same at safety: Another week, another breakdown in coverage because a safety fails to get proper depth. This week it was Brandon Meriweather who allowed Steve Smith (of all people!) to get behind the defense and haul in a 53-yard pass that set up a Panthers touchdown. To put it mildly, the safety play this year has been extremely poor. Craig Steltz having a difficult time handling Jermichael Finley in man-to-man coverage is one thing, but total brain cramps by Meriweather and Major Wright are costing the defense dearly. Have I mentioned before how badly the Bears need Chris Harris back on the field. Wait, I did, last week. History seems to be repeating itself in the Bears secondary when it comes to bad coverage and bad tackling. Both were on display against the Panthers.
5. Cam Newton will be a star in the NFL: One Bears player predicted Newton will be All-Pro in 2012. That's how impressed the Bears were by the rookie quarterback, who threw for 374 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception on Sunday. Newton did a lot of damage on the run, and appeared to be almost flat-footed when he heaved that 53-yard bomb to Smith. Having a veteran receiver the caliber of Smith (eight catches, 181 yards) certainly helps Newton, but much of what he accomplishes can be attributed to natural ability, hard work and excellent coaching. Selecting Newton with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft seemed like a risk at the time, but it sure doesn't now. And remember when Smith was rumored to be on his way out of Carolina. You think the Bears could use a guy like that on the roster.