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Panthers vs. Bears: Final Grades and Analysis for Carolina's Week 8 Game

Stephen FenechCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2016

Panthers vs. Bears: Final Grades and Analysis for Carolina's Week 8 Game

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    While the Carolina Panthers led for the majority of the game, they were sunk on a last second field goal as the Chicago Bears beat them 23-22. 

    This was a devastating loss for the young Panthers, but there are positives that should be taken from this game.

    Let's take a look at the Panthers' final post game grades and analysis. 

Cam Newton- C

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    Overall Game Grade- C

    This grade could have been lower due to his two interceptions and no touchdowns, but I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt on Tim Jenning's pick six. Steve Smith slipped, and he very well may have caught the ball had he managed to keep his balance. 

    On the day, Newton completed 20 of his 39 attempts for 314 yards. He also carried the ball five times for 37 yards, with a few of those runs taking place on crucial third down conversions. 

    Newton has to continue to improve his accuracy from inside the pocket, but that isn't one of his major strengths at this point. He has a very strong arm and is a great runner, but to lead the Panthers deep into the playoffs he has to develop into a more accurate pocket passer.

    Fourth Quarter- D

    Cam Newton threw his second interception to Tim Jennings, but this one hurt the team far more because Jennings returned it for a touchdown. 

    Newton shouldn't receive all the blame, as Steve Smith slipped while running his route which allowed Jennings to intercept the pass. 

    After the interception, Newton ran a bootleg for 16 yards to convert a crucial third-and-one. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Newton's ability to move the chains with his feet is his greatest strength in close games. 

    Cam showed maturity on the Panthers field goal drive, as he threw the ball away rather than taking a sack that would have taken them  out of field goal range.

    Newton's pick was crippling, so I had no choice but to hand him a poor grade for the quarter. 

    Third Quarter- B 

    In the third quarter, Cam Newton complete five of his nine attempts and led the Panthers into the red zone twice.

    Cam also converted two third down conversions with his legs, as he has continued his efficient day into the third quarter.

    Newton hasn't been accurate on all of his passes, but it is nice to see him being aggressive from the pocket. He has been able to find Steve Smith all over the field, while also getting Greg Olsen and Brandon LaFell involved in the offense.

    Second Quarter- B-

    On the second play of the second quarter, Cam Newton scrambled on a third-and-three but after making a great cut, he fumbled the ball prior to breaking the plane of the end zone. Luckily for Newton, Louis Muphy recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. 

    It was a nice run by Newton, but he has to tuck the ball away better, especially in the red zone.

    One of Newton's biggest advantages will always be his size, as he carried the ball for a first down on fourth-and-short near midfield.

    As the Panthers were driving down the field in hopes of making it a two score game, Newton was picked off by Tim Jennings. On the play, Newton was under duress and threw a fluttering pass to Greg Olsen which allowed Jennings to make a big play. 

    Outside of the interception, Cam has looked like the rookie version of himself today and that is very exciting for Panthers fans.

    At the half, Newton has competed 13 of his 25 attempts for 191 yards and one interception.

    It was a bit concerning to see Cam throw the ball out of the end zone on a hail mary to end the half, but the odds of them converting the play for a touchdown were minimal anyway.   

    First Quarter- B+ 

    Cam Newton completed six of his ten pass attempts in the first quarter, as the coaching staff has given him the green light to throw the ball down the field. 

    Thus far, Newton has been very accurate and decisive with the ball. He hasn't given the Chicago Bears opportunistic defense many chances to make plays.

    If Newton continues to play this well, then the Panthers will have a real chance to upset the 5-1 NFC North leading Bears. 

Offense- C

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    Overall Game Grade- C

    The running backs had a difficult time getting anything going on the ground, as the trio of Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert carried the ball a combined 31 times for 82 yards. That type of production won't get the job done, especially when you consider how much money is invested in those three players. 

    Steve Smith turned in another solid performance, as he hauled in seven catches for 118 yards but was unable to find the end zone. 

    Brandon LaFell caught three passes for 88 yards, as he averaged 29.3 yards per reception. However, LaFell was a victim of a helmet-to-helmet hit which knocked him out of the game. 

    Overall, the offense outgained the Bears offense 416-210 but only covered three more first downs than Chicago. Carolina also had the ball for 36:38 versus only 23:22 minutes of ball time for the Bears.  

    The offense moved the ball when they needed to, but weren't efficient enough to win the game from inside the end zone. 

    The Panthers only scored one red zone touchdown on four attempts, which isn't good enough to be at team as good as the Bears.

    If Carolina had scored one more red zone touchdown, they would have won the game and received a much higher grade.    

    Fourth Quarter- C

    On the Panthers first third down of the quarter, Mike Tolbert was tackled short of a first down on a third-and-one. I'm not going to kill that play call, as Tolbert has the size and ability to convert on short yardage situations more often than not.

    Steve Smith slipped while running a route and it led to a Tim Jennings interception return touchdown, as Cam Newton threw the ball prior to Smith falling down. The play gave the Chicago Bears their first lead of the day.

    After the interception, the Panthers converted on two third-and-shorts to extend their drive while down one point. 

    Newton threw a beautiful ball to Smith in the end zone, but he was unable to make what would have been a very difficult catch. On the next play, Newton was forced to roll out of the pocket and throw the ball out of bounds.

    This quarter is a bit of a wash in terms of grades. The interception return was crippling, but the offense did drive down the field to give the Panthers a 22-20 lead.  

    Third Quarter- B+ 

    The Panthers offense picked up where it left off in the first half, as Cam Newton threw a perfectly timed pass to Steve Smith for a first down on their first play. 

    The rushing game has struggled early on in the first quarter, as DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were unable to find holes on their first three combined carries. Luckily for Williams and Stewart, Mike Tolbert caught a pass and juked out Brian Urlacher to convert a 3rd and 10. 

    Brandon LaFell was the victim of a helmet-to-helmet hit and he stayed down on the field for a few minutes after receiving the brutal hit. The penalty gave the Panthers a first-and-goal from the Bears nine-yardline. 

    The drive stalled out, as Newton threw two incomplete passes and Stewart was stopped for a three-yard gain.

    Steve Smith is having one of his best games of the season, as he has hauled in seven passes for 118 yards through three quarters. 

    Second Quarter- B

    Louis Murphy recovered a Cam Newton fumble in the end zone for a touchdown, as he showed good instincts and quick reaction time in jumping on the ball first.

    The offensive line has played pretty well for the most part up to this point, as Cam Newton has had time to throw on the majority of his drop backs.

    The Panthers offense is keeping the Bears defense off balance, as the rushing game and passing attack have moved the ball efficiently.

    Screen passes have worked twice in the quarter against the aggressive Bears defense, and we should continue to see more of them moving forward.

    Steve Smith made a great catch over the middle with about a minute and half left in the second quarter, as he took a big hit but still manage to hold on. Unfortunately, the reception was nullified by a face mask penalty from an offensive lineman. The play reminded everyone just how tough and seasoned Smith is.

    This grade would have been much higher if Newton hadn't thrown an interception to Tim Jennings. 

    First Quarter- B 

    Brian Urlacher read Cam Newton's eyes on his first pass attempt and almost forced an interception. It is crucial that Newton doesn't stare down his receivers because the opportunistic Chicago Bears defense will take advantage of his mistakes. 

    Steve Smith showed great concentration in hauling in a pass while tightly covered on a 3rd and 11, but he was unable to get the first down and the Panthers were forced to punt. 

    The first quarter progressed quickly, as the Panthers had three drives in the quarter. During the third drive, Newton found Brandon LaFell wide open running down the right seam for 62 yard gain. 

    Although the drive stalled, the Panthers offense looked solid in the first quarter.  

Defense- C

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    Overall Game Grade- C 

    The Carolina Panthers defensive front dominated the first half, as they sacked Jay Cutler six times in the first half. Greg Hardy took Cutler down three times, while Charles Johnson sacked Cutler twice.

    In the second half, the Bears focused more on pass protection as they kept in more blockers. The Panthers did not compile a sack in the second half, and that directly correlated to the loss. 

    Luke Kuechly registered 10 tackles and has played very well as the team's starting middle linebacker since Jon Beason got injured. 

    Rookie Josh Norman intercepted Cutler once, and did just about as well as anyone could have hoped for while covering Brandon Marshall

    The Panthers allowed Cutler to find too many receivers open underneath on the last drive of the game, as he had no problem finding open teammates to move the chains. 

    The defense held the Bears to just seven points in the first three quarters and should be praised for that. If Cam Newton hadn't thrown the pick six that gave the Bears a 20-19 lead, then perhaps the defense would have received an 'A' than a 'C'. 

    Fourth Quarter- D-

    Carolina's defense forced the Bears to attempt a field goal on their first drive and surrendered a touchdown on their second. 

    The difference in the fourth quarter is that Jay Cutler has had time to throw the ball down the field, and he has done so quite well. 

    It also didn't help that the Panthers had to defend a very short field after Brad Nortman's horrific six-yard punt.

    With just under seven minutes left in the quarter, the Panthers defense cannot be criticized for surrendering 14 points.

    With about 2:30 left in the game and the Panthers leading by two, the Bears began a drive that they hoped would win them the game.

    Carolina's pass rush disappeared in the fourth quarter, and they allowed the Bears to complete too many short passes that allowed Chicago to get into field goal range.

    It's a very tough loss for the defense, because they performed very well for the vast majority of the game but still lost. 

    Third Quarter- A 

    The Panthers defense forced the Bears offense to go three-and-out on their first drive of the second half, which was impressive considering that the Bears started with the ball near midfield.

    On the Bear's first two drives of the third quarter, they were forced to punt twice without gaining a first down.

    Chicago's offense had a very difficult moving the ball in the third quarter, and didn't convert a first down until their last drive of the quarter..  

    Second Quarter- A-

    The pass rush has been very impressive this afternoon, as the Panthers fourth sack of the day ended the Bears first drive of the second quarter. Greg Hardy has two sacks and Dwan Edwards and Charles Johnson each have a sack, as the Panthers defensive line is dominating the line of scrimmage.

    Josh Norman has done an excellent job covering Brandon Marshall, as the talented wideout only hauled in three passes in the first half.

    Thomas Davis was called for pass interference on third down, which gave the Bears a first down. As it turned out, the penally didn't wind up hurting them as they didn't surrender another first down and forced them to punt.

    The pass rush is having its best game since Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons. If the defensive line can continue this effort, then Cutler and the rest of the Bears pass offense will have a hard time getting going in the second half. At the half, Cutler has been sacked six times.

    To put that in perspective, Cutler has been sacked six times while only dropping back to pass 15 times. He has been sacked more times than passes he has competed (4).  

    First Quarter- B-

    A penalty on Charles Johnson nullified a Greg Hardy sack, as the Panthers had a chance to put the Bears in a second and very long situation. The Chicago Bears have weapons on offense that could fry the Panthers defense, so they cannot afford to make mistakes. 

    Josh Norman intercepted a Jay Cutler deep downfield, as the Bears were trying of find Brandon Marshall deep on a play action pass. 

    While Norman did make an interception on Cutler's first attempt, he doesn't have the size to match up with Marshall. The Panthers will have to give Norman help when Marshall runs short and intermediate routes due to the size difference. 

    Matt Forte has had no problem finding opening running lanes, as he has already gained 44 yards a touchdown at the end of the first quarter. 

    The Panthers pass rush has been very good in the first quarter, and Charles Johnson sacked Cutler and forced a fumble at the very end of the first quarter. Carolina sacked Cutler three times in the first quarter.  

Special Teams- B

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    Overall Game Grade- B

    By kicking the ball off short, the Panthers limited Devin Hester's touches which made him a non-factor in the game.

    Justin Medlock connected on all four of his field goal attempts, and he converted his longest attempt of the season to give Carolina a 22-20 lead with 2:30 left in the contest.

    This grade would have been an 'A' had it not been for Brad Nortman's six yard punt which put the Bears in position for their second touchdown of the day.

    Nortman has not punted the ball at an NFL level consistently, as his effort contributed to the Panthers overall let down. 

    Fourth Quarter- A

    Chicago Bear kicker Robbie Gould missed a short field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter, which kept the Panthers in the lead 19-7.

    On his first punt of the fourth quarter, Brad Nortman somehow managed to punt the ball for six yards. Yes, you read that right. It was easily his worst punt of the season, and his failure put the defense in a tough spot, as the Bears started their drive on the Panthers 39-yardline.

    Justin Medlock hit a 45-yard field goal to give the Panthers a two point lead, as he proved that he could hit a long field goal with the pressure on. 

    Third Quarter- B-

    The Panthers attempted an onside kick to open the second half, but it was unsuccessful so the Bears got the ball in excellent field position.

    Justin Medlock is having a career day, as he converted on his third and fourth field goals of the day to give the Panthers a 19-7 lead.  

    Second Quarter- B

    Justin Medlock is perfect on his two kicks thus far, as today has been his most productive game of the season. While Medlock hasn't been asked to convert any long range field goals, it is comforting to see him get the job done on short attempts.  

    Outside of that, the Panthers kick off and punt coverage teams have done a great job limiting Devin Hester. 

    First Quarter- C- 

    Brad Nortman punted the ball twice in the first quarter for a subpar average of 35.5 yards per punt.

    Justin Medlock converted a 34-yard field goal, as he is still perfect on the season. 

Coaching- D

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    Overall Game Grade- C

    This situation is a perfect representation of how much a result influences how the performance is viewed.

    The coaching staff put together great game plans for each side of the ball and controlled the ball for the majority of the game.

    Unfortunately, Ron Rivera and his defensive staff failed to adjust when the defensive line tired out and couldn't generate the same pressure that they did in the second half.

    NFL coaches are judged by results, so this is nothing more than another loss on Rivera's record. Through a season and a half, Rivera is 7-16 and is firmly on the hot seat.  

    Fourth Quarter- D

    The Panthers somehow managed to surrender a 13 point lead in the blink of an eye, as they made two critical mistakes that allowed the Bears to get back into the game. 

    Brad Nortman's six yard punt was painful, and Cam Newton's pick six was a moral killer. The coaching staff deserves credit for keeping their players heads in the game, as they drove down the field and kicked a field goal to give the Panthers a two-point lead.

    This was a devastating loss for the Panthers, but they presented a much larger challenge than what most expected of them.

    There are no moral victories in the NFL, but this is as close as a team can get to one.

    The coaching staff should have realized that the pass rush was suffering in the fourth quarter and made adjustments. They didn't, and Jay Cutler had no problem moving the ball down the field and into field goal range.  

    Third Quarter- B+

    If there is anything to blame the coaches for thus far, it is the inability to call plays that had allowed the team to prosper inside the red zone on offense. 

    Through their first five red zone attempts, the Panthers were forced to settle for field goals on four of this attempts. 

    Even with the lack of success in the red zone, the coaches are still calling an excellent game on both sides of the ball.

    Second Quarter- A

    The coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for the teams strong performance, as they have changed the offensive game plan drastically. The read option isn't being used, and the offense is striving without it.

    On defense, Carolina is dominating the line of scrimmage and have made life very difficult on Jay Cutler. 

    The coaching staff knows the importance of playing well against such a great team, and they are putting their players in a position to succeed thus far. 

    First Quarter- C

    The offensive game plan has been void of the read option thus far, and we can only hope that will continue moving forward. 

    Cam Newton has had the opportunity to throw the ball down the field, and the results have been promising thus far. 

    The coaching staff knows how important this game is in lieu of the Marty Hurney firing, as the pressure is now directly on the coaches. 

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