Problems on the field have led to a shakeup in the front office of the Carolina Panthers, who are looking for some way to turn their dismal season around.
Doing so Sunday may prove difficult as the Panthers try to avoid a fifth straight loss in a matchup with the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears, winners of four in a row.
Less than 24 hours after Sunday’s 19-14 home defeat to Dallas dropped Carolina to a conference-worst 1-5, owner Jerry Richardson sent a message to the organization by firing longtime general manager Marty Hurney.
“In a situation like this is, when action is being taken, it doesn’t mean the action has stopped,” coach Ron Rivera said. “By no means is it over.”
With a 7-15 record since taking over in 2011, Rivera feels the pressure to get his team on track. The Panthers had lofty expectations after star rookie Cam Newton led them to wins in four of their final six games last season.
“There is something we have to find that is missing,” Rivera said. “I’m not sure if it’s a leadership issue, a coaching issue, a playing issue or a schematic issue. But something is out of whack and we have to fix it.”
He can start with Newton and an offense that averaged 25.4 points in 2011, but has scored more than 14 twice this year.
Newton has a team-leading 273 rushing yards, but he’s thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions. He ran for 64 yards and passed for 233 with a touchdown against the Cowboys, but also threw an INT in the red zone as the Panthers fell to 0-4 in games decided by six or fewer points.
“Well everybody’s looking at it, it’s not just me,” he said. “(We) try to find ways to keep games close and whether it’s me, I don’t know. Whether it’s the coordinator, I don’t know … but we’ve got to find a way to change that.”
The Panthers will face a stiff challenge as they try to avoid dropping five in a row for the first time since a seven-game slide Oct. 31-Dec. 12, 2010. Chicago (5-1) is allowing a league-low 13.0 points per game and has forced an NFL-high 21 turnovers.
Newton ran for two scores and threw for 374 yards with a touchdown at Chicago on Oct. 2, 2011, but also had an interception returned for a TD in a 34-29 loss.
Carolina’s Steve Smith caught eight passes for 181 yards in the game and has averaged 166.3 in four contests against the Bears. Smith, however, has not caught a TD pass in 2012.
Off to their best start since opening 7-1 in 2006, the Bears forced four turnovers and held Detroit star Calvin Johnson to three receptions for 34 yards in a 13-7 victory Monday.
“(The defense is playing) so well, flying to the ball, stopping the run,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “You can’t say enough about the way they’re coming together.”
Cutler, who has won seven straight home starts, expects to be on the field after playing through bruised ribs suffered on a sack by the Lions’ Ndamukong Suh
After overcoming slow starts in their previous two victories over Dallas and Jacksonville, the Bears reached the end zone on their first drive Monday but settled for two field goals the rest of the night. Chicago will try for a more complete effort against a Carolina team that’s allowing 366.2 yards and 24.0 points per game.
“We’re still trying to find our way on offense,” said receiver Brandon Marshall, who has 25 catches for 363 yards and three TDs in the last three games.
Chicago’s Matt Forte has rushed for 203 yards in the past two contests. He’s rushed for 371 yards and three TDs in his last two versus Carolina, rolling up a career-high 205 yards on the ground in last season’s meeting.
The Panthers placed three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason on injured reserve with knee and shoulder issues Wednesday. The season-ending move wasn’t a surprise as Beason has missed the last two games.