LAKE FOREST -- Sometimes a head coach of a 5-1 team has to invent ways to keep his team focused for a contest against a 1-5 squad. But Lovie Smith just needs to point to last year’s game against the Carolina Panthers to keep his players interested.
The Bears beat the Panthers 34-29 and the game was every bit as close as that score would indicate.
“Carolina, last year, gave us all we wanted,” Smith said on Wednesday. “Was a tough game. In fact they onside kicked at the end of the game so it tells you what type of football game it was. Our defense had been playing good football throughout the year, Carolina put over 500 yards on us last year. So it’s a big test.”
They put up 543 total yards to be exact, 409 came thanks to quarterback Cam Newton. He rushed for 35 yards and two scores while throwing for 374 yards.
“He’s fast, he’s big, he has a strong arm, he’s mobile in the pocket,” Smith said. “He can make all of the throws.”
But that was last year. This season hasn’t been the same for the athletic Newton. His passer rating is 79.3, 23rd in the league, but still slightly ahead of Jay Cutler (78.3).
Steve Smith is another weapon who had a good game against the Bears last year. In fact, Smith has always played well against Chicago. In a 2006 historic playoff game for the receiver he had a 218-yard effort, while last season he totaled 181 receiving yards.
“He loves a challenge,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. “He loves playing against the best. Right now the Bears most certainly are one of the best. I think just because of his competitive nature, to him there are certain teams he loves to challenge. This is one of them because this Bears team is one of the better defenses in the league. (To him) there's something about going against the best.”