Bears sneak past Panthers with last-second FG

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- Bears players were quick to admit their performance against Carolina on Sunday afternoon was anything but pretty.
But they'll happily take a 23-22 victory that came courtesy of a game-winning Robbie Gould field goal.
"This was an ugly one," said cornerback Tim Jennings, who scored on a fourth quarter interception return. "(The) offense didn't play well, defense didn't play well, special teams didn't get any big plays. But we just had to keep fighting."
Gould calmly split the uprights as he hit a 41-yard field goal as time expired while winds swirled on the Soldier Field turf. It made up for an earlier 33-yard miss as the Bears (6-1) claimed their fifth straight victory.
Struggling Carolina (1-6) suffered its fifth consecutive loss -- and fourth in a row by five points or less -- capping a tumultuous week that began with last Monday's dismissal of general manager Marty Hurney.
"It's not heartbreaking," said Panthers' wide receiver Steve Smith, who had seven receptions for 118 yards. "Tiresome, monotonous, a few guys in here are perturbed, but we're beyond heartbreak."
The Panthers led 22-20 heading into the final 2:32 after Justin Medlock hit his fifth field goal of the game -- a 45-yarder that took a kind bounce off the right upright and over the crossbar.
But Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler shook off earlier struggles to guide the Bears on a nine-play, 55-yard drive to give Gould his last-ditch chance.
"It was a (overall) boo-worthy performance," Cutler said. "It was pathetic offensively what we put out there. It wasn't up to our standard, product-wise. We have to get better. We know that, our fans know that. Luckily enough we got out of there with a win."
Earlier, the Bears awoke from a nearly game-long slumber with two fourth quarter touchdowns in an eight-second span to climb back into the game.
Trailing 19-7 with less than seven minutes to play, Cutler connected with tight end Kellen Davis on a 12-yard touchdown strike with 6:52 showing.
Seconds later, Jennings picked off Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, scoring on a 25-yard interception return after Carolina receiver Smith slipped on his route. A two-point conversion try failed.
"The ball is coming out of my hand (and) I kind of felt him slipping," Newton said.
The Panthers appeared to be in control with a late 19-7 lead built on four Medlock field goals and an alert end zone fumble recovery by Louis Murphy.
Despite Medlock's success, settling for field goals was not preferred way to score.
"Any time you get down in the red zone, obviously you would like to score touchdowns," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "But you gotta give the Bears credit, they are one of the better red zone teams in the league ... They are an opportunistic defense."
Carolina's defense did harass Cutler, who went 19 of 28 for 186 yards, was picked off once, fumbled twice and was sacked six times.
Defensive end Greg Hardy, pulled from practice on Thursday with a reported illness, appeared fully recovered as he sacked Cutler three times while recording five tackles.
Punchless most of the way, the Bears were shut out much of the game following a first quarter scoring drive.
The Bears struck on a 4-play, 49-yard drive on their second possession with Matt Forte running off right guard on a 13-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead with 4:37 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers tried to match as Newton hit wide receiver Brandon LaFell on a 62-yard strike on first down. That set up Carolina at the Chicago 18, but the Panthers stalled and settled for a 34-yard Medlock field goal with 2:06 showing.
Cutler was sacked at his own 16 in the quarter's waning seconds, giving the Panthers another shot at the end zone. Starting the second quarter inside the Chicago 10, Carolina succeeded this time despite a nearly botched Newton run.
Newton was hit at the Bears' 2, fumbled into the end zone and the ball was recovered by wide receiver Louis Murphy for a touchdown and a 10-7 Carolina lead.
Medlock added a 31-yard field goal with 4:36 left in the half to open a
13-7 advantage. He had successful shots of 22 and 43 yards in the third quarter.
Entering the final quarter, the Panthers dominated time of possession
(30.11 minutes to 14:38) while out gaining the Panthers 369 to 94 in total yardage.
The 12-yard Cutler-to-Davis score came with 6:52 left in the fourth quarter. Jennings' pick-six followed with 6:44 to play.
NOTES: The Bears set a new franchise record with six interceptions returned for touchdowns in a single season. ... Prior to the game the Panthers placed linebacker Jon Beason on injured reserve, released defensive tackle Frank Kearse and added three players to the 53-man roster: cornerback James Dockery, linebacker Doug Hogue and defensive tackle Nate Chandler. ... Rivera is no stranger to the Bears and Soldier Field. He played for Chicago from 1984-92, served as an assistant coach from 1997-98 and was Bears' defensive coordinator from 2004-06 ... Sunday's game was fourth time in five years and third straight season the teams have met. The Bears had won the last two straight, including 34-29 in 2011 ... Special teams star Devin Hester has vowed he'll be more aggressive on returns after being shut out so far this season. He has 29 kick and punt return touchdowns through a seven-year career. ... Cutler uncorked a 48-yard bomb to wide receiver Brandon Marshall on the Bears' first series. It was on-target, but the throw into triple coverage was intercepted.

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