Panthers red zone woes continue as they fall short in 23-16 loss to the Bears

By Zach Goins

October 18, 2020

After a disastrous start to Sunday’s matchup against the Bears, the Panthers were able to claw their way back into the game in the fourth quarter before ultimately falling short 23-16.

Trailing 20-6 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Panthers were able to close the gap and make it a one-score game thanks to huge back-to-back stops by the defense. With 1:32 left on the clock, Carolina had one final drive to try and force overtime, but on the very first play, a Teddy Bridgewater interception sealed Carolina’s fate.

“I thought our defense hung in there and battled,” head coach Matt Rhule said following the loss. “Offensively, we’re just out of sync. We turned the ball over, weren’t protecting the ball, way too many miscues, way too many things that hurt us today. All that being said, we still had a chance to win the ballgame at the end.”

The loss drops Carolina to 3-3 on the season. Here are some takeaways from Sunday’s game:

A rough start

Things could not have started off worse for the Panthers. Things immediately got off on the wrong foot when Carolina was flagged for an illegal double-team block on the opening kickoff, and the penalty forced them to start on their own 10-yard line.

Then, after a one-yard loss on first down, Bridgewater was sacked and barely escaped being brought down for a safety– it turned out giving up two points would have been a better result. On the next play, Bridgewater’s pass went off the hands of wide receiver Robby Anderson and was intercepted by Tashaun Gipson. Four plays later the Bears were in the end zone with a 7-0 lead.

“I think we got knocked off course from the opening kickoff and it’s like we never really got back on track,” Bridgewater said. “We’re going to learn from today. Like I told some of the guys in the locker room, this game can humble you, so I think a game like today is good for us. We can learn from it. Never want to experience what happened today again and try to move forward.”

Panthers can’t finish in the red zone

After finally finding success on offense over the last three weeks, Carolina reverted back to its old ways on Sunday. 

On both of their scoring drives in the first half, the Panthers drove the ball smoothly down the field, only to stall out upon reaching the red zone. The result was just six combined points after two Panthers field goals, despite the team getting close to the end zone on 14 and 13-play drives. 

The struggles didn’t come as a surprise, though, considering the Bears boast the NFL’s best red zone defense and second-best third down defense. Carolina converted just 3-of-13 third downs on the day.

“We just got to be better. That’s all it is. When we get down there, we’ve just got to be better,” Bridgewater said. “Great football teams, they capitalize in those situations and they take advantage of it. We didn’t do that today.”

Early in the fourth quarter, the Panthers finally found success in the red zone thanks to a 33-yard pass interference penalty against the Bears. With the ball placed on the 1-yard line, running back Mike Davis was able to break through the goal line and score the Panthers’ only touchdown of the day.

Jeremy Chinn continues to impress

Second-round draft pick Jeremy Chinn has been one of the brightest spots on the Panthers’ defense this season, and his impressive rookie campaign continued against the Bears.

The hybrid linebacker/defensive back notched five tackles on the day, as well as his first career interception at a critical time. In the third quarter, Mike Davis coughed up a fumble setting the Bears up at the Carolina 22-yard line. On the very next play, though, Chinn picked off a pass intended for Demetrius Harris and gave the ball back to the Panthers. 

“They ran that same play the drive before then or a couple of drives before then,” Chinn said of the route he intercepted. “They ended up hitting the seven (route) because I didn’t hinge good enough. Then they came back and ran it again and I hinged and was able to make a play on it.”

Ultimately, it didn’t amount to anything, as Carolina’s possession ended in a missed field goal, but it still kept Chicago off the board. 

The interception came after Chinn also recorded a key pass break up on the previous drive. Facing third-and-9, Bears quarterback Nick Foles targeted tight end Jimmy Graham, but Chinn undercut the pass to deflect the ball and force a punt.

“That interception was a huge play, and he’ll continue to get better and better,” Rhule said of Chinn. “This year I saw a bunch of young guys out there playing, and I think they hold their own when they go out there, and Jeremy’s certainly no exception.”

So close, yet so far

It’s no secret Carolina has struggled to produce sacks this season. The Panthers entered Sunday’s matchup tied for last in the league with just five sacks on the year.

Well, the Panthers had no trouble getting to Foles, but the trouble came when it was time to actually bring him down. Carolina tallied a whopping nine quarterback hits, but not a single sack. 

You’ve just got to keep rushing, keep doing what you’re doing,” defensive end Brian Burns said of the near misses. “QB hits will eventually turn into sacks, sacks come in bunches. We’ve just got to keep rushing and our time will come.”

Granted, Foles one of the quickest releases in the NFL, so sacking him isn’t easy for anyone. 

On the flip side, Carolina hadn’t given up a sack since Week 3, but that streak ended Sunday when Chicago recorded 2.5 sacks on Bridgewater.

The Panthers take on the Saints next on Sunday, October 25 at 1 p.m. on Fox. 

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