Rapid Reaction: Bears 23, Panthers 22

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears' defense bailed out Jay Cutler and the offense, who had a horrid showing Sunday. Tim Jennings' 25-yard interception return touchdown with 6:44 left and Robbie Gould's 41-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Bears to a 23-22 win over the Carolina Panthers.

Gould atoned for missing a 33-yard field goal with 12:14 remaining.

Let’s look closer:

What it means: Not much in terms of the NFC North standings. The Bears extended their lead in the division, which is a positive moving forward because the Bears face stiff competition in the coming weeks, facing Houston at home on Nov. 11 before traveling to San Francisco to face the 49ers on Nov. 19.

The second-place Minnesota Vikings helped the Bears by losing Thursday night to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while the Green Bay Packers moved into a tie for second in the division Sunday by defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Record-breaking performance: Jennings’ return TD gave Chicago its sixth interception return TD of the season, which breaks the franchise record of five set in 2004. Since 2004, the Bears have now scored 24 touchdowns on INT returns, which is good for third in the NFL over the past eight years.

The Bears are now 19-5 over the past seven years when they score a touchdown on defense. Since 2004, the Bears have scored 31 defensive touchdowns (24 INT returns, and seven fumble return TDs).

Third-down inefficiency: The Bears failed to convert a third down in five tries through the first three quarters, while their opponents converted 53 percent, which allowed the Panthers to mount several long drives.

What’s worse is the Bears didn’t convert their first third down until there was 9:27 left to play. By then the club had converted 1-of-7.

O-line issues again: Having given up six sacks on Sunday, Chicago’s offensive line has now allowed Cutler to suffer 11 sacks over the past two weeks after limiting opponents to just 12 sacks over the previous four games. It would difficult to pin all of the sacks on the offensive line, because Cutler seemed to be responsible for at least two of them.

But the fact the quarterback has absorbed so many sacks over the past two weeks is alarming and definitely an issue the Bears will have to re-address in their preparation for next week’s game at Tennessee.

In addition to the sacks, the pressure the offensive line allowed resulted in two Cutler fumbles.

Bennett missing: With rookie Alshon Jeffery missing his second consecutive game because of a fracture in his hand, the Bears expected Devin Hester or Earl Bennett to step up and fill the void. So far, neither has picked up the slack but Bennett simply hasn’t been used.

Cutler didn’t throw the ball in Bennett’s direction until the last two plays of the third quarter, and the receiver hauled in both passes for 35 yards.

What’s next: The Bears travel to Tennessee next week to take on their third AFC South opponent of the season. Interestingly, Chicago scored 41 points in winning each of its first two meetings against AFC South foes this season, so maybe the club can duplicate that scoring production against the Titans.