Panthers 24, Bears 17

Panthers top Bears in sloppy preseason opener

jperson@charlotteobserver.comAugust 9, 2013 

Victimized by another pick-six by the Chicago defense, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton can take solace in the fact he won’t have to face the Bears in the regular season.

Newton played three series and accounted for two touchdowns – one for the Bears on an interception that rookie linebacker Jonathan Bostic returned for a score – in the Panthers’ 24-17 victory in the exhibition opener for both teams at Bank of America Stadium on Friday night.

It’s the third time in as many games that the Bears have picked off Newton and returned it for a touchdown. The first two came in regular-season games in 2011 and 2012 – both Chicago victories.

Newton said he hated leaving the game on a sour note, but is looking forward to next week’s game against the Eagles when he figures to play a more extended role.

“It’s tough. I begged and pleaded so I could get one more series. I’m going home with an interception my last throw. It’s disgusting. But it’s something you’ve got to live with,” Newton said. “You’ve got to live and learn. And I think it’s keeping me anxious for this upcoming preseason game at Philadelphia.”

The Panthers had their own defensive heroics, the loudest of which were supplied by second-year cornerback Josh Norman.

Norman, who lost his starting spot late last season, had two interceptions – one that set up a score and the other he returned for a touchdown.

“I don’t know if I would say redemption. I just feel like it’s hard work paying off,” Norman said. All the hard work I put into the offseason, all the work I’ve been doing and practicing and understanding the concepts of everything. And just my study habits have gotten a whole lot better.”

It was a sloppy game befitting an early-August exhibition. The teams combined for seven turnovers, including four by Carolina.

The Bears led the league with 44 takeaways last season.

The Panthers’ three quarterbacks all lost turnovers. Backup Derek Anderson threw a second-quarter interception, while third-teamer Jimmy Clausen fumbled a handoff in the second half on his first drive.

But Newton’s pick received the closest inspection.

He was trying to throw across the middle to tight end Greg Olsen, who was covered by safety Major Wright. Newton never saw Bostic, the second-round pick from Miami who pulled in the pass and ran along the right sideline for a 51-yard score.

“I saw man-to-man. … (Wright) had help inside. I completely lost (Bostic),” Newton said. “Just got to get the cobwebs out. It’s something different than our defense and we’ve got to be more prepared.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Newton “got a little greedy,” on the interception, but played well otherwise.

Newton’s three series resulted in a punt, a touchdown and the interception. He was 3-for-6 passing for 16 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell.

Norman’s first pick came on the Bears’ first offensive snap, when the Panthers were in a nickel package – the only reason Norman was on the field. Jay Cutler was looking for former South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery on a slant route.

But when Jeffery cut the route short, Norman juggled and then held on to the ball, returning it 11 yards to the Bears’ 18-yard line. Norman’s lone interception as a rookie came at Cutler’s expense, as well.

“Me and Cutler probably got something going on with him, me and the ball,” Norman said, laughing. “Other than that, he’s a great quarterback.”

Following the Norman pick, a pass interference penalty on former Panthers linebacker James Anderson gave Carolina a first-and-goal at the 4. Newton found LaFell crossing toward the right side of the end zone three plays later.

And while Newton led the cheers from the sideline in the second quarter, Norman wasn’t done.

When Chicago third-string quarterback Matt Blanchard launched a poor throw toward the Carolina bench in the third quarter, Norman jumped in front of it, ran down the sideline, made one cut and was gone.

The 60-yard score gave the Panthers their biggest lead at 21-10.

Norman had a four-interception practice last year during training camp, but wound up on the bench late in the year because of his freelancing and his struggles in zone coverage. And while Rivera said Norman has improved in those areas in his second season, he’s had mostly a quiet preseason.

Until Friday.

“He’s a ball-hawk,” Rivera said. “He’s got the ability to make plays. We saw that last year and I really do believe he’s having a solid camp.”

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