The Panthers (3-2) moved back into sole possession of first place in the NFC South by sacking Jay Cutler four times and forcing four turnovers in a 31-24 win over the Bears. Each of Chicago's last three possessions ended in turnovers.
''It was great to see the pass rush get the chance to cut loose,'' Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. ''Again, when you get yourself into the position when you have a lead, you get them into the second- and third-and-longs, and you can cut it loose and get after the quarterback.''
The Panthers were second in the NFL in overall defense last season and led the league with 60 sacks.
They've been nowhere near as good this season after losing defensive end Greg Hardy. The Panthers put Hardy on the exempt-commissioner's permission list last month, meaning he was removed from the team's active roster until his domestic violence case is resolved.
Hardy was convicted July 15 of assault on a female and communicating threats after the victim claimed the 6-foot-4, 275-pound player threw her in the bathtub and onto a sofa covered with guns before threatening to kill her. Hardy is appealing the ruling and a jury trial is set for Nov. 17.
Hardy has been one of several distractions the Panthers have had to deal with.
Last week defensive end Frank Alexander was suspended an additional 10 games for his second violation of the league's substance abuse policy, and the team has had to deal with a number of injuries to their running backs and two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Cam Newton.
Some things we learned from the Panthers' 31-24 win over the Bears:
NEWTON EXCELS IN NO-HUDDLE: There's no doubt about it, Newton looks most comfortable when he's running the no-huddle offense. When the Panthers needed a spark, they turned to the no-huddle late in the first half and Newton found his rhythm, going 5 of 6 for 72 yards and a 9-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen. The Panthers stayed with the no-huddle in the second half and it continued to work.
''I think for us that's been our edge on most games,'' Newton said. ''When you look at us running the no huddle, it's not us trying to run fast. It's just trying to tempo the defense. We can't allow the defense to pin their ears back and stay fresh on every down. When we went into the no huddle offense it wasn't in a panic.''
KEEP IT IN FRONT: The Bears are reliant upon the screen pass and Matt Forte finished with 105 yards receiving as a result. But the Panthers did a good job of adjusting and taking that away in the second half, holding the Bears to just three points while forcing three turnovers after intermission.
''Early in the first quarter we were catching them in man and hitting them with some screens. Then they started zoning us out from there on out,'' Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said.
SECOND HALF STRUGGLES: For the second straight week the Bears failed to score a touchdown in the second half.
''We get down there and we haven't been able to push it through,'' Bears coach Marc Trestman said. ''We haven't been able to finish drives today. We got caught in on the back end in the fourth quarter. We were on the wrong side of the field and we just couldn't get enough going to get a couple of first downs and start moving the ball. ''
JOHNSON GETS ONE: Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson said he felt like he got the monkey off his back with his first sack of the season. Johnson has been battling a hamstring injury and failed to register a sack in the first four games after posting 11 in 2013.
Johnson also recovered a fumble to seal the win and deflected a pass.
''I've still got a lot of things I've got to get better on and I'm going to keep doing that,'' Johnson said.
FORTE'S FUMBLE: Forte tallied 166 total yards from scrimmage on Sunday, but what he'll probably remember the most is his costly fumble late in the fourth quarter that led to Carolina's game-winning touchdown.
''I was fighting for extra yards and I was sure I had two hands on it, I went to put two hands on it and it just came out,'' Forte said.
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