CHARLOTTE — Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was on the defensive Monday, a day after the Carolina Panthers dropped another close game despite a strong showing from his group.
The Panthers held Chicago to 210 yards, forced three turnovers and sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler six times – and still lost 23-22 after the Bears drove for a game-winning field goal as time expired.
It was the fifth consecutive loss for the Panthers (1-6), with the last four decided by five points or fewer.
For the third week in a row and fourth time this season, the Panthers’ defense gave up two touchdowns or fewer – each time in a losing effort.
“Two hundred ten total yards, six sacks, three takeaways, in my history in the NFL you win those games,” said McDermott, the former Philadelphia defensive coordinator. “And that’s why it’s gut-wrenching to see the performance defensively that those guys put on the field. To not come away with a win is tough for the third week in a row.”
McDermott’s decision to stay in a soft, cover-2 defense for the Bears’ final drive has been questioned, including a few not-so-subtle comments from a couple of his defensive backs.
Cutler, who had a miserable first half when he was sacked six times, completed 6 of 7 passes on the final drive, including four to Brandon Marshall on slant routes.
On the slant patterns, rookie cornerback Josh Norman was giving the outside receiver a cushion of 6 to 9 yards, and the Panthers didn’t adjust.
“Obviously, we need to tighten up the coverage there and win that situation the next time it comes up,” McDermott said.
During their two-minute drill at the end of the first half, the Bears sent receivers on deep routes as Cutler took seven-step drops in the pocket. The Panthers sacked him twice on that drive, with defensive end Charles Johnson forcing and recovering a Cutler fumble on second-and-long.
Coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers didn’t want a receiver to get behind the secondary, as Atlanta’s Roddy White did against free safety Haruki Nakamura for a 59-yard catch on the Falcons’ game-winning drive in Week 4.
“For what they were doing, the defense we were in gave us the best opportunity for what they could potentially do,” Rivera said. “Would we like to tighten the coverage up? Yes. We’d like to see the corners come up a little bit more, see the safeties come down a little closer.”
Having burned two timeouts earlier in the half, the Panthers elected not to use their final timeout to regroup while the Bears were driving.
“There’s a lot of things going on over the headsets in those situations. So yeah, those (discussions about a timeout) were all part of the conversation,” McDermott said. “We’ve got to handle that better next time.”
Despite losing starting cornerback Chris Gamble and Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason to season-ending injuries, the defense has kept the Panthers in games.
Carolina had a 2-to-1 edge in total yardage against the Bears, and held Matt Forte to 70 yards rushing on 15 carries.
McDermott bristled when asked about the Bears’ second-half adjustments.
“I don’t want to discredit them. If you can hold a team to 210 yards, you win the dang game. Bottom line,” McDermott said. “I’m not sure what adjustments they made. If they did, I didn’t see them.”