Soldier Field (61,500) / October 28, 2012 • 1:00PM / PANTHERS.COM
Panthers Travel to Chicago to Face NFC North Leading Bears
Charlotte, NC – Still searching for the missing ingredient in a season of close losses, the Carolina Panthers travel to Chicago Sunday to meet the NFC North Division leading Bears at Soldier Field. The Panthers are coming off a 19-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the fourth defeat of the year by six points of less for Carolina.
Carolina has lost by six points (at Tampa Bay), five points (Dallas), four points (Seattle) and two points (at Atlanta) in the first six games that have also seen the Panthers win by eight over New Orleans and lose decisively to the Giants while compiling a 1-5 record.
“You have to find a way to close out games and that is something we have struggled with,” says head coach Ron Rivera, a former Bears linebacker and defensive coordinator. “So many games in this League are decided at the end and we have had opportunities, but have not taken advantage of those opportunities.”
Since Sunday’s game against the Cowboys, the Panthers have also learned that they have lost veteran cornerback Chris Gamble, the team’s career interception leader, for the season with an injured shoulder. Gamble has missed the last two games against Seattle and Dallas and has been replaced by Captain Munnerlyn. Also questionable for a third straight week is linebacker Jon Beason, who has been out with a knee injury.
Despite the absence of the two leaders, the Panthers defense has turned in a pair of strong efforts against the Seahawks and Cowboys, limiting both to a single touchdown. After ranking 28th in yardage allowed last season, the Panthers have moved up to 21st this year through six games.
Playing a key role in the improvement has been rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has recorded 34 tackles in his two starts at middle linebacker in the last two weeks. Kuechly also had an interception against the Seahawks and leads the Panthers in tackles for the season with 66. He is one of two rookies starting for the Panthers with Josh Norman also starting at cornerback.
Third down has been a concern for the Panthers on both sides of the ball, where Carolina is 27th on both defense and offense in the League. That trend proved problematic against the Cowboys last week as Dallas converted six of 14 third down opportunities while the Panthers were just two of 10.
After finishing in the top 10 a year ago in both total yards and scoring, the Panthers have dipped to 24th in yardage this season and 28th in points per game. In three of their six games, Carolina has scored a touchdown or less and has scored more than two touchdowns only twice.
A staple in the past, the running game has been inconsistent, depending largely on quarterback Cam Newton, who leads the team with 273 yards and 5.9 yards per carry average. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have teamed for 312 yards.
Former Bears tight end Greg Olsen has become an integral part of the passing game, catching 26 passes for 324 yards to rank behind only Steve Smith, who leads the team with 28 catches for 471 yards.
However, inconsistency on the offensive line has started to plague the Panthers as the loss of Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil has set off a domino effect that has greatly impacted the line’s continuity.
Guard Geoff Hangartner has moved to Kalil’s center spot, Byron Bell, who started four of the first five games at right tackle, has moved into Hangartner’s former spot at right guard, and Garry Williams has become the starting right tackle. The moves leave left tackle Jordan Gross and rookie left guard Amini Silatolu as the only starters in their positions from the beginning of the season.
The Panthers are also again facing one of the League’s top ranked defenses for the third week in a row as the Bears come into the game sixth in yardage allowed on the heels of Seattle’s fifth ranked defense and Dallas’ fourth ranked unit.
“It’s the NFL, nothing is easy and we are going to Chicago to play one of hottest teams in the League,” says Rivera.
LONG TENURE FOR SMITH & GROSS
Wide reciever Steve Smith and tackle Jordan Gross are the longest tenured
active Panthers with Smith in his 12th season and Gross in his 10th and
both take aim at the Panthers all-time record for starts this season (141).
Gross will establish a new Panthers record this week at Chicago
(10/28/12), when he opens the game at left tackle, his 142nd career start.
Gross will pass wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad and Mike Minter who
each started 141 games in their Panthers careers.
In Week Five vs. Seattle (10/7/12), wide receiver Steve Smith played in his
156th career game, passing Muhammad for second all-time in games
played as a Panther. This week will at Chicago, Smith will play in his
158th career game. Kicker John Kasay holds the team’s all-time record
for games played with 221 from 1995-2010.
PANTHERS CAREER LEADERS, GAMES PLAYED
John Kasay, 1995-2010 221
Steve Smith, 2001- 157
Muhsin Muhammad, 1996-2004, 2008-09 155
PANTHERS CAREER LEADERS, GAMES STARTED
Muhsin Muhammad, 1996-2004, 2008-09 141
Mike Minter, 1997-2006 141
Jordan Gross, 2003- 141
Steve Smith, 2001- 136
- Panthers head coach Ron Rivera played for the Bears from 1984-92, was the Bears defensive quality control coach from 1997-98 and was the Bears defensive coordinator from 2004-06.
- Panthers wide receiver coach Fred Graves coached at Western Illinois from 1977-78.
- Panthers tight end coach Pete Hoener attended Bradley University, coached at Illinois State in 1977 and Illinois from 1987-88 and was on the Bears coaching staff in 2004.
- Panthers assistant wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl played for the Bears in 1997.
- Panthers quarterbacks coach Mike Shula coached for the Bears from 1993-95.
- Panthers defensive line coach Eric Washington coached with the Bears from 2008-10 and coached at Northwestern University from 2004-07.
- Panthers defensive assistant/coaching intern Bobby Babich coached at Eastern Illinois and is the son of Bears linebackers coach Bob Babich.
- Bears long snapper Patrick Mannelly played collegiately at Duke University.
- Bears defensive end Julius Peppers attended Southern Nash (N.C.) High School, played collegiately at the University of North Carolina and began his NFL career with the Panthers, playing for the team from 2002-09.
- Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery attended the University of South Carolina.