By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – If home is where the heart is, the Chicago Bears aren’t
pining for the Windy City these days.
The Bears will attempt to stay perfect on the road this weekend when they
visit Cam Newton and the reeling Carolina Panthers.
It’s been a bit of a Bizarro World for Marc Trestman’s team during the first
quarter of the 2014 season as the Bears have won both of their road outings
while losing two at Soldier Field, the last of which was a 38-17 implosion at
the hands of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers last weekend.
Rodgers, of course, told the Green Bay Packers’ fans to relax leading up to
that game, but it was the Chicago defense which ended up kicking its shoes off
as Rodgers threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns — two each to Jordy Nelson
and Randall Cobb — and amassed a gaudy 151.2 passer rating.
The Packers scored on their first six possessions of the game while piling up
358 yards of offense versus the paltry 223, their lowest total in five years,
a week earlier in a 19-7 loss at Detroit.
Cobb finished with seven receptions for 113 yards and Nelson had 10 for 108 as
the Packers won by three TDs despite surrendering 496 yards thanks in large
part to the errors of Rodgers’ counterpart with the Bears, Jay Cutler.
Cutler threw two key interceptions in the third quarter and also made the
cardinal mistake of throwing the football to Martellus Bennett in the middle
of the field without any timeouts in the waning seconds of the first half.
Bennett appeared to possibly reach the ball across the goal line but then
bobbled it as he brought it back to his body, keeping the Pack on top at
intermission and what turned out to be a major momentum swing.
Cutler threw for 256 yards with two touchdowns to go along with the two picks
for Chicago, which has lost eight of its last nine meetings with Green Bay.
Bennett had a monster game in defeat, catching nine passes for 134 yards. Matt
Forte ran for a season-high 122 yards on 23 carries, while Brandon Marshall
and Alshon Jeffery each caught touchdown passes.
“It’s always hard to go on the road, especially in the NFL, coast-to-coast and
win two games,” Forte said. “For us to drop two games at home, that leaves a
bad taste in your mouth.”
The game also marked just the second time in NFL history that neither team
punted the ball.
“It’s early in the season,” Cutler said. “We have a lot of football left to
Carolina, meanwhile, saw a ghost from its past last weekend as Steve Smith Sr.
delivered big against his old team, hauling in two touchdown passes to help
the Baltimore Ravens crush the Panthers 38-10.
Smith, who spent the first 13 seasons of his illustrious career with Carolina,
took jabs at his former quarterback Cam Newton leading up to the game. He
backed it up by making seven catches for 139 yards, while Newton was subpar
for a second straight week guiding Carolina’s offense.
“I’m 35-years-old and I ran around those guys like they were schoolyard kids,”
Playing through various injuries, Newton threw for 197 yards and a touchdown
on 14-of-25 passing, but struggled in the second half as the game got away
from the Panthers.
“I don’t feel like I’ve played good enough football yet,” Newton said. “If I
felt that way, we’d be 4-0 right now.”
To make matters worse for the Panthers, running back DeAngelo Williams left
the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury. He and Darrin Reaves
gained only 60 total yards on 23 carries.
The Bears and Panthers have met just seven times previously with Chicago
holding a 5-2 advantage in the series, including a 23-22 win in the last
encounter on Nov. 28, 2012. Bears cornerback Tim Jennings had two
interceptions in that one and Marshall adding nine catches for 98 yards.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Bears go as Cutler goes and the veteran QB has been much better on the
road early this season. He has amassed a 63.9 completion percentage with six
TDs and no interceptions as the visitor for a 106.3 passer rating versus four
TDs and four picks at home and a 84.7 rating.
In theory finding the running game should help but that didn’t work against
Green Bay because the Packers are so explosive offensively and beat the Bears
in a run-and-gun game. Carolina, on the other hand, doesn’t possess the same
kind of explosiveness, meaning another big game from Forte will mean far more
in this kind of environment.
Forte, meanwhile, generally excels against the Panthers, averaging 6.3 yards
per rush in four games. He also exploded for 166 yards and two TDs the last
time Chicago visited the Tar Heel State, a 23-6 win Oct, 10, 2010.
Carolina, meanwhile, has struggled defending the run, surrendering 140.8 yards
on the ground per game, a stark contrast from its second place finish a year
ago when the defense let up under 90 yards per game.
That lack of run defense has spurned a slump on defense overall and the
Panthers have allowed 75 points over the past two weeks after giving up a
total of 21 in the first two games.
“Stopping the run is simple,” Panthers star linebacker Luke Kuechly said. “If
you’re not in your gaps, they are going to rush you. If you’re in your gaps,
they can’t run the ball. It’s cliche and as easy as it sounds.”
Offensively Carolina is tremendously banged-up in the backfield with Williams
(ankle), Mike Tolbert (broken leg) and Jonathan Stewart (knee) all nursing
injuries. Only Stewart is possibly in play for this game and undrafted rookie
Reaves is expected to start after an uninspiring 12-carry, 26-yard performance
against the Ravens.
The Panthers signed veteran running back Chris Ogbonnaya this week to provide
some added depth.
All of that puts tremendous pressure on Newton, who has already been sacked
nine times in three games.
The Bears, meanwhile, are expecting to get a pass-rush boost with the return
of Jared Allen, who missed the Packers game with pneumonia.
Neither team seems to be trending in the right direction but give the Bears a
slight advantage in their attempt to open 3-0 on the road for the first time
since 2006 due to all the injuries in the Carolina backfield.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bears 24, Panthers 23