May 20, 2024

CHICAGO — It was obvious early Thursday night that defense and special teams were going to play big roles as the offenses of the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers were underwhelming. In the end, the Bears’ defense was decisive in a 16-13 win.

It was a game that featured key pieces from a blockbuster offseason trade, when the Bears sent the No. 1 overall pick in the draft to Carolina for DJ Moore and a package of picks, including the Panthers’ first pick in 2024. The Panthers used that to draft quarterback Bryce Young, who didn’t do enough to get Carolina its second win.

Chicago, meanwhile, was led by undrafted rookie QB Tyson Bagent, who is now 2-2 as a starter while Justin Fields recovers from a dislocated right thumb.

Chicago Bears

Not many games fall into “must win” category for a team with seven losses. Given what’s at stake in the 2024 NFL draft with the Bears owning the Panthers first-round pick, the outcome Thursday was pivotal for measuring current growth and future draft positioning.

The Bears significantly increased their chances to earn the No. 1 overall pick. According to ESPN Analytics, the win gives Chicago a 42% chance for the No. 1 pick, which is the highest in the NFL.

After Chicago was held to three field goals in the first half, coach Matt Eberflus proclaimed his Bears “had some things up our sleeve” for the second half. While the magnitude of those things is debatable, the Bears did enough to win in Week 11 on a night when Eberflus’ defense showed significant signs of improvement.

The Bears have 10 days before they travel to Detroit to face the 6-2 Lions and could very well have quarterback Justin Fields back under center for the first time since Oct. 15.

Pivotal series: Chicago’s defense clamped down on Carolina’s second drive of the third quarter with a six-yard tackle for loss and sack to force a three-and-out. The offense, which didn’t make it in the end zone in the first half, took advantage of a rare start in plus-territory at the Panthers’ 38-yard line and took the lead for the first time after D’Onta Foreman‘s 4-yard rushing touchdown capped off a nine-play, 38-yard scoring drive.

Promising trend: Chicago put an end to its two-game streak without a sack by taking down Panthers QB Bryce Young three times on Thursday. The Bears entered Week 10 pressuring quarterbacks on a league-low 22% of drop backs. In the first half, Young was pressured on 9 of his 17 drop backs (53%), which was the Bears’ highest pressure percentage under Matt Eberflus. That number leveled off in the second half (33%), but Chicago’s pass rush showed improvement in holding the Panthers to 3-of-15 on third down. Montez Sweat had a team-high five pressures, the first Bears defender with five pressures in a game since 2021. — Courtney Cronin

Next game: at Lions (1 p.m., ET, Nov. 19)

Carolina Panthers

Rookie quarterback Bryce Young and the Panthers’ offense are not made for prime time.

Just when it seemed it couldn’t get worse than the previous week when Young threw two pick-sixes, it did against the Bears. There were no pick-sixes or interceptions, although there easily could have been three or four.

There was just a level of mediocrity that could build a case for head coach Frank Reich to take back the playcalling duties.

Carolina (1-8) has scored only two touchdowns in the three games since Thomas Brown took over the playcalling. But it could just be an overall talent issue. The Panthers struggled offensively when Reich called plays as well, but not to this level

QB breakdown: For the second straight game, Young took a step backwards. He had only 63 yards passing in the first half, and 45 of that came on one play. He came into the game with an NFL-worst 29.6 Total QBR, and that won’t improve. Young finished 21 of 38 for 185 yards.

Buy on a breakout performance: Third-year wide receiver Mike Strachan. Carolina has been high on the 6-foot-5 player out of Charleston (W.V.) in practice, and he made an impact in his first game off the practice squad with a 45-yard catch in the first half. He could be the deep threat that has been missing.

Troubling trend: The Bears may have found the secret to shutting down the Panthers’ offense: contain wide receiver Adam Thielen. He was held to six catches for 42 yards, making Carolina’s most consistent weapon basically a non-factor.

Bold prediction for next week: The Panthers will make some changes on the offensive line, perhaps moving center Bradley Bozeman to left guard. Young has been under constant pressure this season, and much of that has come from up the middle. — David Newton

Next game: vs. Cowboys (1 p.m., ET, Nov. 19)

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