Wrap-up: Bears 23, Panthers 22

Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers’ 23-22 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field:

What it means: Carolina (1-6) has had some painful losses, but this one has to be the most painful so far. That’s because the Panthers finally showed some spunk in the aftermath of the firing of general manager Marty Hurney. They outplayed the Bears for almost the entire day and appeared to have the game won. But a defense that had swarmed Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler most of the day allowed him to lead a late drive that set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal as time expired. Things have been really bad for the Panthers for more than a month, but I think it is now fair to say they’ve entered sky-is-falling territory.

Roller-coaster day: Carolina quarterback Cam Newton finished with 314 passing yards and gained another 37 on the ground. But the stats don’t tell the real story. Newton had been playing well enough to win, but he threw a crucial interception with the Panthers holding a 19-14 lead with 6:44 left in the fourth quarter. Tim Jennings picked off Newton and returned the interception for a touchdown to give the Bears their first lead (20-14) of the day. Newton did lead a drive to set up a field goal that let Carolina reclaim the lead (22-20), but it was only temporary as the defense couldn’t stop Chicago’s last drive. Newton also lost a fumble on a scramble near the goal line in the first half, but receiver Louis Murphy bailed him out by recovering the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. But Newton has become a magnet for criticism and he got hammered by FOX television announcer Daryl Johnston, who said the quarterback did not thank Murphy for saving the play. The scrutiny of Newton is only going to intensify after this one.

Squandered sacks: The maligned Carolina defensive line played its best game of the season. The Panthers sacked Cutler six times and kept him under pressure most of the day. Defensive end Greg Hardy had the best game of his life with three sacks. Defensive end Charles Johnson had two sacks, including one on which he forced a fumbled that set up Carolina’s only touchdown.

Sevens are better than threes: A couple of days ago, we noted that the Panthers were in contention to break the modern NFL record for fewest field goals attempted in a season (12, by the 1999 Cleveland Browns). Carolina had attempted only two field goals entering the game. But the Panthers are off that pace now. Justin Medlock converted five field goals against the Bears. But if just one of those field goals had been a touchdown instead, the Panthers might have come out of this one with a victory.

What’s next: The Panthers play at Washington next Sunday.