Things got off to a rough start for Teddy Bridgewater and didn't finish any better as the Carolina Panthers lost a 23-16 fight at home to the Chicago Bears. A sack put Bridgewater's back against the shadow of his own end zone on the opening offensive drive and an interception gave Nick Foles a short field with which to operate, and he'd make them pay with a touchdown toss to Cole Kmet to take the early lead for the Chicago Bears. The Carolina Panthers answered with a 14-play, 72-yard drive that pushed all the way to the Bears 3-yard line but fell just short and settled for a field goal to shrink the lead to four in the first quarter.
It was mostly a defensive contest and, as such, points were at a premium. Foles looked far more efficient than did Bridgewater for most of the game, and it was clear Matt Nagy's plan was to get the ball out of his quarterback's hands quickly. Bridgewater was struggling to do the same on his end, but did just enough to get the game close in the fourth quarter with the help of Mike Davis, Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore -- threatening to escape with an improbable comeback win.
The Bears were able to clamp down and steal the victory though, in what turned out to be one of the more exciting games in the NFL this weekend.
Why the Bears won
They were at a premium in this NFC matchup with both defenses getting a shot to make a game-changing play on more than one occasion, but when push came to absolutely shove, it was Foles and the Bears offense who made the most of their possessions in the red zone. They went up 20-6 at the close of the third quarter on a QB sneak from Foles to make for their second successful red-zone conversion in their first three attempts, and it made the Panthers a one-dimensional team in the final session. From there, it was simply about keeping the pressure on a struggling Bridgewater -- who failed to find a groove in the passing game for much of the afternoon.
Foles wasn't perfect, and he made his share of errors after firing off to a 9-for-10 start on pass attempts, but he was efficient and kept the Bears offense on the rails. Despite not having a big day in the way of rushing yards, the Bears enjoyed an afternoon of watching Foles throw the ball around to multiple targets and disallowing the Panthers to key in on Allen Robinson or any single receiver. Nagy's bunch won the third-down conversion rate, the red zone conversion rate and got timely takeaways.
That's how you win on the road.
Why the Panthers lost
It took Carolina more than three quarters to finally find the end zone.
They entered the fourth quarter having failed to score a touchdown on two visits to the red zone -- both were 70-plus yard drives that took more than six minutes off the clock but resulted in just two field goals -- before finally converting on a one-yard touchdown punch from Mike Davis. In a defensive clash such as this, leaving eight points on the field wound up biting them in the backside, especially as the Panthers offense line struggled to provide Bridgewater a clean pocket. He was sacked four times on the day, and while he tried to use his legs to relieve the pressure, it simply wasn't enough.
By the time Robby Anderson got involved -- he had only five receiving yards in the first half before delivering two downfield plays in the third quarter -- the Panthers were already in a hole they couldn't climb out of, and the fact D.J. Moore disappeared only hurt the cause further. The Panthers offense struggled to run, to pass, to convert third downs and to score in the red zone.
That's a formula for a loss.
It arrived early in this one, when pressure forced a disheveled Bridgewater into tossing an interception to Tashaun Gipson on the Panthers' opening drive. Foles and Kmet did the rest on a short field -- taking a lead Chicago would never relinquish.
Play of the game
Can Bridgewater use one final chance to force overtime or grab the improbable win? DeAndre Houston-Carson says no, and thanks in part to the pressure generated up front by Robert Quinn.
Chicago won where it mattered most
"Bears have the NFL's best red-zone defense. Panthers have one of the league's worst red-zone defenses." -- Joe Person of The Athletic
The Bears now head west for an NFC clash with the Los Angeles Rams, while the Panthers look to bounce back against the rival New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome -- a daunting task.
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