CHARLOTTE—New head coach, same opportunistic Bears defense. They forced three first-half turnovers and linebacker Jonathan Bostic returned an interception 51 yards for a touchdown, but the Carolina Panthers spoiled Marc Trestman’s NFL head coaching debut with a 24-17 win over Friday. The Bears — who had four turnovers — picked up where they left off last season when they led the NFL with 44 takeaways and finished with nine defensive touchdowns, one shy of the league record.Problem was the Bears offense couldn’t do a thing for the better part of three quarters. Carolina’s second-year cornerback Josh Norman had two interceptions, including a 60-yard return for a touchdown against Matt Blanchard. The Bears had three turnovers and allowed seven sacks.
“Certainly we didn’t do what we wanted or up to our expectations,” Trestman said of his offense. “… We’ve got work to do.”
Jay Cutler was intercepted on the Bears first play from scrimmage by Norman, setting up a 3-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Brandon LaFell. Cutler bounced back to complete 6 of 8 passes for 56 yards, but the Bears offense managed only a field goal in the first three quarters.Tight end Fendi Onobun dropped a wide open pass in the end zone from Josh McCown in the second quarter and the Bears turned the ball over on the next play at the Carolina 12.Matt Forte carried once and lost a yard and the Bears were held to 16 yards rushing on six carries and 85 total yards in the first half.
“Defensively, we just wanted to go out and establish ourselves,” Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said. “We didn’t really know what to expect because everything is new in Chicago. So it was all about going out and executing what we do and we did a good job of that defensively.”
Newton’s night was a mixed bag.Carolina’s third-year pro played three series and was 3 of 6 for 16 yards with the one touchdown to LaFell on a crossing route. But what had been a mostly positive night turned sour when Newton threw into double coverage and was intercepted near midfield by Bostic, who ran untouched to the end zone.Newton didn’t return to the game after that.
“Cam got a little greedy and tried to force the ball in there,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
The Panthers tried to emphasize their push toward a “more traditional running game,” but struggled to move the ball with DeAngelo Williams held to 10 yards on five carries.With running backs Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert out with injuries, the Panthers got a long look at their three young running backs — Tauren Poole, Armond Smith and sixth-round pick Kenjon Barner from Oregon.Barner scored on a 5-yard touchdown run late in the first half to give Carolina a 14-10 lead at the break.
“That’s unacceptable,” Barner said of an earlier fumble in his NFL debut. “I can’t have that. In no way, shape or form can you win games with turnovers. I’ve got to get that corrected.”
The Panthers have been waiting three years for Armanti Edwards to emerge and the former third-round pick is starting to show some flash as a potential No. 3 receiver.Edwards, who has been praised by Rivera for his play in training camp, caught two passes for 38 yards.Carolina’s much-questioned secondary performed well. Norman, entering his second season, started in the team’s nickel defense and his interception of Cutler set up Carolina’s first touchdown.
“I’m calmer this time around as opposed to my rookie year,” Norman said.
Cutler, who said the Bears didn’t do much in terms of game planning, called it an unfortunate start.
“I have to put the ball on Alshon’s (Jeffery) other shoulder,” Cutler said. “We had some good stuff after that; we had some bad stuff. Typical preseason game.”
Typical regular season game for the Bears defense though.The Bears lost Brian Urlacher to retirement and are starting two new linebackers in D.J. Williams and former Panther James Anderson. But it seemed as if they didn’t miss a beat early on, forcing three first-half turnovers.
“There were a lot of things we could do better,” Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. “There were some things we did well. When we put on the tape, we’ll all evaluate the things to improve on. All in all, when you are getting turnovers in the game that’s very big.”
NOTES—Prior to the game, the Panthers held a moment of silence for Jon Richardson, the son of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who died last month after a long battle with cancer. Jon Richardson had worked in previous years as the franchise’s director of stadium operations.