The Bears weren’t apologizing for barely beating a 1-7 team that was playing on the road on a short week with a rookie quarterback and a shaky offensive line Thursday night.
“It’s hard to win in this league,” linebacker T.J. Edwards said after the Bears squeezed out a 16-13 victory over the Panthers at Soldier Field. “Every team is good. Every team is talented. So, anytime you can do that, it’s a win. A win is a win. This is a big-time win, just for our mental [confidence] and to show that we’re going in the right direction.”
We’ll see about that. The Bears have been here before, most recently after beating the Raiders 30-12 at Soldier Field. That was a third consecutive strong performance by the defense, with two interceptions, including cornerback Jaylon Johnson’s pick-6.
But when they played better teams — not even great teams, just better teams — the Bears lost to the Chargers, 30-13 and the Saints 24-17.
So there’s still much to prove, but any win is a chance to accentuate the positive. The Bears’ defense held the Panthers to six points, 213 total yards and 3.7 yards per play. The Bears sacked Bryce Young three times and had nine quarterback hits — three each by defensive end Montez Sweat and defensive tackle Justin Jones.
And, regardless of the opponent, they won a close one — by coming through with key plays on offense and defense in the fourth quarter.
When the Panthers were driving for a tying field goal or potential winning touchdown — with a first down at the Bears’ 41-yard line with 1:54 left — the Bears forced Young into three consecutive incompletions, including linebacker Jack Sanborn’s near interception on third down. That forced the Panthers to settle for Eddy Pineiro’s 59-yard field goal attempt with 1:40 left that was well short of the crossbar.
And after a conservative approach to get them in position to win, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy turned a bit daring to seal the game on the ensuing possession. On third-and-seven from the Panthers 48 with 1:26 to go, quarterback Tyson Bagent threw an eight-yard completion to Darnell Mooney for a game-clinching first down. Had the pass been incomplete, the Bear would have been punting with about 1:20 to go.
“We liked the play call,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “Really good play call by Luke. Excellent execution by the o-line, the entire offense and Mooney on the catch and Bagent on the throw.”
No matter the opponent, the value of winning close games can’t be underestimated in the parity-wracked NFL. The Bears were 0-3 in one-score games this season and had lost 10 consecutive one-score games since beating the Texans 23-20 in Week 3 last season.
“I feel like we’ve been searching for one of these close games where you can pull it off. Good teams find a way to get it done,” Edwards said. “We’ve been talking about willing this [team] to win and I felt like we did that.
“It wasn’t always pretty. 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 and believing in one another and finding a way to win.”
That’s all well and good, but now the Bears need a truer test to confirm their belief that they’re close to a breakthrough. And that opportunity will come against the 6-2 Lions on Nov. 19 at Ford Field. The momentum they feel means nothing if they can’t turn it into a credible — if not winning — performance against a playoff contender.
“Just keep building,” safety Jaquan Brisker said of the Bears’ mindset after beating the lowly Panthers. “Like I said to the players, we didn’t do anything yet. We have to keep going up, keep staying focused and stay together. As long as we do that, we’ll be good.”