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Cardiac Cats Stun Bears 20-17

The Carolina Panthers stunned the Chicago Bears with an improbable comeback win, 20-17. It was an oppressively hot Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium, in Charlotte; though the temperature did not top 88 degrees, the heat index hovered around 108.

The visiting Bears thoroughly dominated the Panthers in the first half, and looked as though they had the game locked up in the third quarter, with the score 17-3; however, Chicago gave up seventeen unanswered points to the Panthers to seal their fate. In fact, both teams took turns trying to self-destruct throughout the contest. The Panthers defense only allowed one touchdown, but the offense looked futile until the late third quarter. Chicago’s defense permitted only a field goal until late in the third, as well.

Chicago’s special teams got off to a great start with a blocked Jason Baker punt at the end of the Panthers’ first drive. The Bears’ Darrell McClover easily blew by Carolina’s Nick Goings, as Baker took a little more time to try and angle the ball away from Devin Hester. McClover got a hand on the punt, and after the ball popped up, Brandon Lloyd caught it and returned it nine yards for the score. It was not an auspicious start for the Panthers, and proved to be a harbinger of tough times to come, with their offense having been decimated as much by the Bears as their own penalties.

Carolina, at home no less, had a staggering five false starts in the first two quarters. Penalties were actual a huge problem for both teams, with Chicago recording twelve for eighty-six yards, and Carolina finishing with their own ten for sixty-five yards.

Starting Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton looked efficient, if not exciting. He finished the game 19 of 32 for 149 yards, with no touchdowns, but at least he did not register any interceptions. He overthrew his receivers quite a few times, but he also made some very nice, precise throws into traffic as well. It did not help him that Carolina’s secondary had a good day; although there were more than a few passes that should have been picked off, the Chicago receivers were also harassed quite a bit. In fact, the game-changing shift of momentum in the third quarter came as Greg Olsen caught a pass only to have ex-Bear Chris Harris punch out the ball to an alert Chris Gamble, which eventually led to a Panther TD.

Bears rookie Matt Forte definitely looks like the real deal for Chicago, rushing for 92 yards on 23 attempts, and gaining 21 yards on three receptions, as well. It certainly was a day for rookie backs, as Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart scored his first NFL touchdown, and added another to seal the game. Stewart finished with fourteen carries for seventy-seven yards, with seventy-six of them in the second half when he took over for DeAngelo Williams.

The Bears ran roughshod over the Panthers for a little more than three quarters, but the Panthers finally got a spark with the tough running of Stewart, and, ironically, a pivotal hit on QB Jake Delhomme. First round pick Stewart plowed over and around Chicago’s vaunted defense, setting up a beautiful Muhsin Muhammed touchdown that was unfortunately negated by yet another Panther penalty. On the same drive, Delhomme rushed on a third and twelve, but in sliding late, took a vicious hit to the head by Chicago’s Lance Briggs. After cradling his head on the field, Delhomme jumped up pumping his chest, and seemingly talking trash the whole way to the sideline. The quarterback’s spirited fortitude appeared to energize his players. Carolina settled for a 45 yard field goal by stalwart kicker John Kasay.

While the hit on Delhomme was deemed fair, the Panthers defense admittedly took offense to what they thought was a sure penalty. They seemed to kick it into gear at this point, and never looked back… much to Chicago’s chagrin.

Things got worse for the Bears, as star returner Devin Hester left the game after injuring his ribs on the next kickoff. Adding insult to injury, Chris Harris finally got his revenge on the Bears for trading him, after stripping tight end Greg Olsen of the ball, which was scooped up by corner Chris Gamble. Harris also purportedly had told the Carolina defense that they were not going to take the hit on Jake Delhomme, and then made good on it with the turnover. The Panthers capitalized on the turnover, with a tough 4 yard touchdown run by rookie Stewart, closing the gap to 17-13.

The Panthers managed to break their four game losing streak of home openers; with five minutes and change to go, Delhomme took
them down the field on a 55-yard, 5 play drive. He hit tight end Jeff King, who made an athletic diving catch at the one yard line. King redeemed himself for an earlier bobbled catch that led to a Bears interception.

With 3:52 left in the game, Jonathan Stewart took his second TD of the day on a grueling one yard goal-line rush. For the second straight game, Jake Delhomme led his team to another improbable late 4th quarter comeback win.

The defense for the Panthers also had an impressive 4th and 1 stop on the Bears’ comeback bid, denying them any chance of reaching field goal position to extend the game.

This contest had turned into a proving ground for both teams; they both had surprise wins in their first games, against teams they weren’t favored to beat. This game has showed us that at this point in the season the Chicago Bears have recaptured their dangerous defense of a few years ago, and that Kyle Orton appears capable and efficient at quarterback, and could possibly stabilize their offense. The Panthers have resurrected the Cardiac Cats, and have not shown the moxie to start 2-0 since their Super Bowl season of 2003; and these first two wins should bode well for Carolina’s confidence as they were accomplished sans three time Pro Bowler Steve Smith.

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