Matt Forte averaged 12.8 yards on his first five attempts after busting a 46-yard jaunt during the opening drive on the way to running for a career-high 205 yards. The return of backup Marion Barber helped as well because the veteran adds a physical dimension to the running attack. Props also go out to left guard Chris Williams who unloaded a couple of big blocks top spring Forte for big gains.
Jay Cutler continues to struggle, and finished Sunday with a passer rating of 46.7 on 9-of-17 passing with an interception. Perhaps the abundance of run calls inhibited Cutler's ability to warm up and get into the flow of the game. But the team converted just 3 of 10 on third downs with inaccurate Cutler throws definitely playing a role. The pass protection held up, allowing just one sack.
Bears coach Lovie Smith probably considers Carolina's 6.5-yard average unacceptable, and he wouldn't be wrong. The Bears came into the game with the 18th ranked rush defense, and that ranking is sure to drop after this outing. The Bears have been pounded by the opponent's rushing attack two weeks in a row now. So look for the Bears to find ways to improve at fitting against the run with extra time to prepare for Detroit.
The Bears forced Panthers rookie Cam Newton to throw an interception in the first half that D.J. Moore returned for a touchdown. But the secondary struggled mightily at neutralizing Steve Smith, who finished with 8 catches for 122 yards. The lone positive is the Bears didn't allow a TD pass until the final moments when they'd already gained complete control of the game.
Devin Hester said sooner or later he'd break a return, and that's exactly what transpired when he moved into sole possession of the league's punt return TD record on a 69-yarder in the second quarter. Just before that, Hester zipped up the home team's sideline for a 73-yard return that set up Forte's 17-yard TD in the second quarter. Kicker Robbie Gould, meanwhile, connected on both is field-goal attempts.
This grade improves from last week thanks to offensive coordinator Mike Martz finally emphasizing the rushing attack. In the team's opening drive alone, Forte, Cutler and Barber combined for 78 yards in a nine-play drive that featured eight runs. It's a little alarming Bears used all three of their timeouts with plenty of time remaining and the threat of the Panthers scoring a TD to go ahead. It's also worth questioning some of the cutesy play calls made by Martz.