The NFL is a week to week league. No game is a given and on any given Sunday a good football team can be in an unexpected dog fight.
The Bears found themselves in a true battle with a desperate Panthers team. It was clear from the first quarter the Panthers were going to dictate the pace and effort in the game and it was up to the Bears to respond.
It took the Bears until the fourth quarter to finally get it going on offense and they had help from Tim Jennings and his pick six. The Bears outscored the Panthers 16-3 in the fourth quarter to sneak out a 23-22 win on the strength of a Robbie Gould last second field goal.
The Panthers had the football over 13 more minutes than the Bears and out gained them by over 200 yards in total offense. Jay Cutler had a fourth quarter touchdown pass to Kellen Davis and Brandon Marshall finished with nine receptions for 98 yards.
Jay Cutler: B-
It might seem like an overgenerous grade but you have to give credit to Cutler for an outstanding fourth quarter. Whatever he couldn't do he made up for in in the final 15 minutes. Overall, the numbers weren't bad either. He finished 19 for 28 with 186 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His quarterback rating was 83.3.
Matt Forte: B
Forte started off hot but was the victim of an offense that couldn't find a rhythm. Still, he had 70 yards on the ground in 15 carries and a rushing touchdown. He also had five catches on five targets including a couple key ones in the fourth quarter.
Michael Bush: C-
Not too many chances for Bush. He carried the ball as the Bears got close to the end zone in the fourth quarter but couldn't do much. He finished with three carries for five yards.
J'Marcus Webb: D
Webb was worked through three quarters of the game. He was pushed back and blown by on multiple occasions.
Chilo Rachel: D
The Panthers used stunts to get Rachel and Webb into trouble. It worked. The two could not pick up players and often times both were standing there looking as the Panthers got to Jay Cutler.
Roberto Garza: B
Aside from a penalty, Garza had a solid game up the middle. The pressure didn't come from him or Lance Louis and they both did a nice job in opening holes for Matt Forte.
Lance Louis: B
Louis continues to be the real bright spot on the line. Again, he pass protected well and was able to spring Forte for a couple solid runs.
Gabe Carimi: D
Like Webb, he was just flat out beat on too many occasions. Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson combined for five sacks from the end positions for the Panthers.
Kellen Davis: B+
What a huge catch by Davis for the touchdown. Cutler gunned the football and Davis showed great hands to be able to haul in the biggest catch of the game for the team.
Matt Spaeth: C-
Listen, don't blame Spaeth too much for the drops. Yes they were bad but he's the blocking tight end for a reason. He actually didn't do that great in pass protection either.
What another outstanding game for Marshall. For three quarters he was the only option in the pass game. In the fourth quarter he became the main option on the game winning drive. He finished with nine receptions for 98 yards.
Devin Hester: D
It's tough to see on television but Hester just cannot seem to find a seam in his underneath routes. He did drop a key pass on third down as well. It can't just be go routes all the time for him. He needs to be a factor in other spots on offense.
Earl Bennett: B-
Bennett like Hester could not find the soft spots in the zone early but he rebounded well in the fourth quarter including the final drive. He finished with three catches for 47 yards.
Julius Peppers: A
For the first time in three games against his old team Peppers got a sack, then he got another. He had a strong game making Cam Newton uncomfortable in the pocket.
Henry Melton: A
No sacks for Melton but he was chasing Newton out of the pocket early and often. He was aggressive in stopping the run and finished with six tackles.
Stephen Paea: C+
There were times when Paea was giving a good push up the middle and then there were times when he was the one pushed. Another up and down game for Paea who had two tackles and one for a loss.
Israel Idonije: B-
Idonije was active when he was on the field. Sometimes a little too active. He over pursued at times and had a bad penalty on Newton. Still he had four tackles including one for a loss.
Shea McClellin: B
Not too many snaps but McClellin showed a couple different looks including dropping back in coverage. Had a nice play against the run at one point.
Corey Wootton: B
When Wootton has been on the field this season he has done very well. This game is no different as he provided a spark in the rotation.
Nate Collins: B+
You can usually tell a fresh body by how active he is. Collins was all over the field from the start of the game. It was the first time he dressed this season and he made the most of it
It's clear Urlacher can no longer make the extraordinary plays. What he does still do well is make the smart and necessary ones. He had another solid game up the middle.
Lance Briggs: B
Briggs had seven tackles but it felt like he should have had more. A couple misses out there for a guy who usually cleans up everything. Still, he had a solid game making sure the Panthers' run game never really got going.
Nick Roach: B
The Panthers' backs were funneled up the middle plenty of times causing them to gain a minimal amount on the ground. You can thank Roach for most of that.
Charles Tillman: B
Tillman played the run well but wasn't really in the spotlight because he didn't shadow Steve Smith. He stayed in Cover 2 a lot and did as well as you would expect the veteran to play.
Tim Jennings: B+
Steve Smith had a big game but a lot of his catches came in zone coverage. Jennings made him work for everything when locked in man to man and of course his pick six was the biggest play of the game. He and Tillman trade spots every week for contenders in the Defensive Player of the Year category.
D.J. Moore: B
The Panthers don't really have a viable option at the third receiver spot so Moore wasn't seen too much. When he was on the field though he did a good job providing penetration in the run defense.
Major Wright: B
Wright played well close to the line of scrimmage and stuck his nose in their plenty of times providing that extra help in the box.
Chris Conte: C
There were a couple poor plays that stood out for Conte. The Brandon LaFell 62-yard reception was on him and so was the helmet to helmet hit that knocked LaFell out. He did struggle in zone coverage but not as bad as some may think. At some point you have to tip your hat to Steve Smith for being a great receiver.
Adam Podlesh: A
Podlesh did everything he could to make sure the Panthers had a long way to go all day. He was very good in his four punts.
Robbie Gould: B
Mr. Automatic missed one he usually hits but they will remember the game winner. What a great way to redeem himself.
Kick Return Team: A
Early on the Panthers made the decision to keep it away from Devin Hester. It became a kick return by committee group that saw Armando Allen, Eric Weems, Earl Bennett, Craig Steltz, Corey Wootton and Kyle Adams all secure good field position for the Bears throughout the game.
Lovie Smith: C-
His team came out flat and Smith was lucky to get the win. Even still, give the man credit for getting the win. Key standouts include a great job in clock management towards the end of the game. The two-point conversion was the right call even though they could not execute.
Mike Tice: C-
Tice did not do a good job getting his offensive into any kind of a rhythm. They were destroyed in time of possession and total yards. He abandoned the run at times when it seemed like the only thing working and the pass protection was poor at best. Then he rebounded with two great drives that ultimately led to the win.
Rod Marinelli: B-
He defense was truly a bend but don't break style. He kept his group from succumbing to the pressure and got the key takeaway they so desperately needed. Even still Cam Newton was able to get big chunks for yards at times and you would have liked to see more pressure.
Dave Toub: A
Great adjustment on the squib kicks. Toub made sure anybody on that second level had good enough hands to handle the football.