Brandon Marshall saw the grin on Jay Cutler’s face, and that was all it took to put him at ease.
The Chicago Bears were trailing again. Time was running out.
”That’s when you want that type of quarterback,” Marshall said.
Robbie Gould kicked a 41-yard field goal as time expired after Cutler rallied the Bears in the fourth quarter for a 23-22 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
The Bears trailed 19-7 in the fourth period when the game turned in a big way.
Chicago (6-1) took over on the Carolina 38 after Brad Nortman shanked a 6-yard punt, and Cutler connected with Kellen Davis on a 12-yard scoring pass with just under 7 minutes left.
On Carolina’s next play from scrimmage, Steve Smith slipped on an out pattern and Tim Jennings returned his second interception of the game 25 yards to make it 20-19. The pass failed on the 2-point attempt.
Cam Newton drove the Panthers to the Chicago 27, and Justin Medlock’s 45-yard field goal hit the right upright and went through to put Carolina ahead 22-20 with 2:27 remaining. But Cutler moved the Bears 55 yards to the 23-yard line, going 6 of 7 before Gould nailed his winner.
”(Cutler) gets up smiling,” Marshall said. ”I’m sitting here shaking – a little bit of the cold weather, a little bit of (being) nervous – and he just starts smiling like, `Well, here we go.’ It just put me at ease right away. The guys feel that vibe and they play off of it.”
For Newton and the Panthers (1-6), the vibe couldn’t be worse.
They fired their general manager during the week amid turmoil about their performances, and then dropped their fifth straight game after dominating for most of the day.
Carolina gained 416 yards and had six sacks against Cutler, with Greg Hardy getting to him three times. But somehow, Chicago pulled it out.
”Not heartbreaking,” Smith said. ”Tiresome, monotonous, a few guys in here are perturbed and (ticked), but we’re beyond heartbreak. We’re just getting upset.”
Cutler completed 19 of 28 passes for 186 yards after having his ribs bruised by Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh on Monday night.
Marshall had 98 yards receiving and Matt Forte ran for 70 yards and a touchdown for Chicago. And with Jennings running back that interception, Chicago’s defense has six touchdowns on the season.
”We were down,” Jennings said. ”We knew we had to score on defense. Our captains rallied up the troops. We knew that if we got our hands on the ball we had to score. That’s been our mentality all season. I was able to be in the right position and make a play.”
Newton threw for 314 yards and Smith added 118 receiving for Carolina. Medlock nailed five field goals, but the Panthers took another stinging loss.
With the worst record in the NFC, they let longtime GM Marty Hurney go Monday while making it clear no one except maybe Newton is safe.
Even he’s come under criticism in recent weeks for his demeanor, and adding to the Panthers’ woes was a mounting list of injuries. Three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil (foot), cornerback Chris Gamble (shoulder) and three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason (knee and shoulder) went down for the rest of the season in recent weeks.
”This was a challenging week, not only for myself, but for any Carolina Panther fan that has been following us,” Newton said. ”We just have to come out and keep enduring and keep going and keep going. It tells a lot about the teammates and what type of team you have faced with adversity.”
The way this game started, it was hard to tell which team was in first place and which one was in disarray.
Hardy only had two sacks this season and never more than one in a game in his career, but he created all kinds of havoc in the first half.
The Panthers also had 226 yards while holding the Bears to 49 through the first two quarters.
Cutler tried to hit Marshall deep in double coverage on Chicago’s first possession and got picked off by Josh Norman near the goal line.
Forte’s 13-yard scoring run through a big hole in the line on the Bears’ next possession made it 7-0, but otherwise it was a brutal half for the Bears. The Panthers might have broken it open had they converted a few more chances near the goal line.
Instead, they got two field goals by Medlock in the first half and a touchdown by Louis Murphy on a fumble recovery in the end zone after teammate Newton coughed it up on an 8-yard scramble while building a 13-7 halftime lead.
Notes: Cutler said his ribs weren’t bothering him. He just didn’t play well for most of the game. ”Didn’t really feel them at all,” he said. ”No one played well. I didn’t play well. It starts with me. Offensively, those first 3 1/2 quarters were just ugly.” … Gould missed a 33-yarder early in the fourth quarter. … Even though Jennings now has six interceptions, the Panthers’ Smith wasn’t heaping praise on him. ”I know you want to pump him up. I’ve been kicking his (butt) every time I’ve come up here and today no was different. Do you disagree? I didn’t think so.”