Julius Peppers return to Bank of America Stadium on Sunday was full of flying. The “boo birds” were heard early and often when the name of Chicago Bears’ defensive end flew in the stadium.
Peppers tipped a screen pass in the first quarter and intercepted it while on his knees as the ball fell back toward the turf. He celebrated the play by motioning for the fans to be quiet. They did the opposite.
“I loved it,” Peppers said. “I am over here now. See my shirt. I’m not for the home team so that is what I expected.”
Panthers head coach John Fox said screen passes to Peppers’ side of the defensive line are “not recommended.”
The Panthers’ offense was quiet in the team’s 23-6 loss at home to the Bears. Carolina suffered its fifth-straight loss to open the regular season and ninth straight dating back to the start of the 2010 preseason.
Chicago jumped out to a 17-3 lead in the first quarter and maintained that margin throughout most of the game. Matt Forte scored the Bears’ first touchdown on an 18-yard run for a 7-0 lead. John Kasay kicked the Panthers’ first field goal in the first quarter to cut the deficit to four points. It was all Bears the rest of the way.
“In every phase, it was an avalanche,” Fox said.
Forte scored again on a 68-yard run for a 14-3 lead, and Robbie Gould ended the first-half scoring with a 28-yard field goal. Gould led the charge for Chicago in the win making field goals from 28, 53 and 43 yards. His final field goal was the difference in the 17-point win.
Carolina’s defense held strong after the assault in the first quarter. Chicago failed to get a first down in the third quarter and only four in the second half after getting nine in the first two quarters.
Defensive tackle Ed Johnson, defensive end Everette Brown and safeties Jordan Pugh and Charles Godfrey intercepted Chicago quarterback Todd Collins. Godfrey’s pick, however, was the only turnover the Panthers converted into points. John Kasay kicked a 53-yard field goal with 2 minutes 15 seconds left in the third quarter to cut the Bears’ lead to 17-6 and end a seven-play scoring drive.
“The last couple of losses fell on our shoulders, and we have to take accountability for that and start to find a rhythm,” Panthers tight end Jeff King said. “I think we need to start holding up our end of the bargain.”
Armanti Edwards made his NFL debut in Sunday’s loss in the first quarter on Peppers’ interception. He played Wildcat quarterback on a play in the second quarter and carried the ball seven yards before Peppers tackled the rookie wide receiver from Appalachian State.
“It felt good,” Edwards said. “I’ve been playing that position my whole life, so it was nothing new to me.”
Jimmy Clausen’s third-career start did not look much different from his first. Clausen completed less than 50 percent of his passes (9-22-1), and he did not throw a touchdown in Sunday’s loss. He was benched the final 3:36 of the game.
“That was a coach’s decision, and I’m all for what coaches decide,” Clausen said. “I think it’s just a matter of time. You’re not going to go from a rookie quarterback to an All-Pro quarterback in a week or a few games or a season. It’s a progression you have to go through, and I’m trying to excel at that as much as I can, as fast as I can for myself to give this team an opportunity to win games.”
Matt Moore took over as Carolina’s quarterback with 3:36 left in the game. His first two passes were both to Edwards. He caught the first but fell out of bounds for an incompletion, and the second was intercepted. Edwards said the ball hit his thigh but should have been caught. That turnover led to Chicago’s last field goal.
Moore was 5-of-10 passing for 35 yards and two interceptions. His final pass attempt was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Charles Tillman.
Clausen said the loss leaves a sour taste in the team’s mouth heading into the Panthers’ bye week. The winless Panthers (0-5) are off next week and play the San Francisco 49ers at home two weeks from Sunday.
“You have to keep a positive attitude as hard as it is,” offensive tackle Jordan Gross said. “Keep working. Keep swinging.”