Schrock: Bears find way, offer glimpse of true selves in gritty win vs. Panthers

CHICAGO — As a franchise, the Bears have been searching for a long time: Searching for a franchise quarterback for consistency, for a way to climb the NFL ladder, and to stay at a place fitting their charter member status.

The search has defined the Bears for the past three decades.

The Matt Eberflus Bears, namely the 2023 version, have been on their own hunt for the past 10 weeks. Burdened by injuries to key players and forced to navigate turbulent waters brought on by organizational instability, the 2023 Bears have been looking for what they think they found Thursday in an ugly 16-13 win over the Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field.

A way.

“I feel like we’ve been searching for one of these,” linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “One of these close games where we could pull it out. Good teams find a way to get that done. Tonight we were able to. Honestly, we’ve been talking about just willing this thing to win. I felt like we did that tonight. I wasn’t always pretty but that’s football. That’s the NFL. It’s never going to be exactly how you want it to be but I thought we did a great job of staying together, believing in one another, and finding a way to win.”

Prior to Thursday’s rock fight extravaganza, the Bears hadn’t won a one-score game in 410 days, with their last coming in Week 3 of the 2022 season when Roquan Smith picked off Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills to set up a game-winning field goal.

Since then, the Bears have found only pain, heartbreak, and calamitous error-prone football in one-score games. They found ways to lose with costly penalties, brain-freeze turnovers, and poor fundamentals.

None of that reared its head Thursday. You can probably chalk most of that up to the Panthers being an NFL abomination. Even the Bears knew there was no excuse for losing to that Panthers team.

“I want to say resilient, but I feel like that’s a game we’re supposed to win,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “We made it a little too tight, but at the end of the day, we gotta W. We go back to the drawing board after the weekend.”

As is usually the case, both things can be true.

The Panthers are horrific, and the Bears would have had no business losing that game.

But this team needed to show it could weather a storm and make plays down the stretch of a tight game. They needed to provide evidence of progress. That as they get healthier, the Bears team that many expected to arrive when the season began will finally show itself.

“We’re determined,” cornerback Kyler Gordon said. “We know what we got on our team. We all know on the inside. Anything that happens, we push to the side, and it’s in the past. We know where our future is and where we want to take this team.”

The Bears’ defense suffocated Panthers rookie quarterback Bryce Young and the Panthers on Thursday. The Bears surrendered just six offensive points while holding the Panthers to 3.7 yards per play.

With their offense scuffling, the Bears’ defense, led by new addition Montez Sweat and a healthy secondary, knew they had to stamp ouBears’Panthers. That’s how they like it.

“We want it on our back,” safety Jaquan Brisker.

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The Bears have been through a wave of adversity this season. They aren’t sailing on calm seas yet, but for one night, the 2023 Bears showed what they were about. That the fight, heart, and pride had not yet left them despite their record.

“We going to keep fighting, man,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “We going to keep chopping wood. No matter what happens. No matter the circumstances. Everybody on the field going to rally around each other and go out there and make plays. We just showing what we can do when everyone is on one page, attention to detail, everyone is locked in. That’s just a preview of it. We just ready to get [Tremaine Edmunds] back and get this thing rolling in the right direction. To have everybody out there on together on the field on defense. We’re going to see what we really capable of on that side of the ball.”

“We got heart. We going to be in every game. We ain’t going to give up,” wide receiver DJ Moore echoed.

As the Bears started to filter out of the locker room Thursday night, there was hope that the slopfest win over the Panthers could be the start of something for a rebuild still trying to get off the ground. A catalyst for an in-season turnaround? Unlikely.

But these Bears, at least for one night, refused to say die. They are going to keep fighting, and that could serve them well down the road.

“We built the foundation, and it’s just going to keep rising,” Gordon said.

At least for one night, that appears to be believable.

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