CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For the second straight weekend, a poor second-half performance by the Bears led to a disappointing loss that left them shaking their heads in disbelief.
But that's where the similarities end. After getting picked apart by Aaron Rodgers a week earlier, the Bears had no one to blame but themselves for what transpired Sunday against the Panthers.
Looking to rebound from their 38-17 loss to the Packers, the Bears blew leads of 21-7 and 24-21 in en route to a deflating 31-24 defeat to Carolina at Bank of America Stadium.
After being shut out in the second half by Green Bay, the Bears mustered only three points in the final two quarters Sunday on Robbie Gould's 45-yard field goal late in the third quarter.
"I've got to take accountability for our failure to get it done in the second half," said coach Marc Trestman. "We didn't get it done in all three phases and that starts with me."
Gould's kick gave the Bears a 24-21 lead, which they held until midway through the fourth quarter before turnovers on each of their final three possessions cost them the game.
First, Jay Cutler airmailed a pass over intended receiver Santonio Holmes to Panthers safety Thomas DeCoud, who returned the interception 35 yards to the Chicago 32.
The Bears defense held Carolina without a first down, but Graham Gano's 44-yard field goal tied the score 24-24 with 4:29 remaining in the fourth quarter.
On the next play from scrimmage, Panthers cornerback Antoine Cason stripped the ball from Kyle Long and defensive tackle Kawann Short recovered the fumble at the Chicago 23.
Six plays later, Cam Newton rifled a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen on third-and-goal, giving Carolina a 31-24 lead with 2:18 to play.
The Bears then coughed up the ball for the third time in less than six minutes when Cutler fumbled on a sack on a desperation fourth-and-21 play from his own 34 with 1:06 remaining.
"It is frustrating early on because it is not like we are getting beat; we are beating ourselves," Forte said. "If we can get out of our own way, we can win some games."
The loss dropped the Bears (2-3) into a third-place tie with the Vikings (2-3) in the NFC North, one game behind the Packers (3-2) and Lions (3-2).
"It's definitely one that got away," said safety Ryan Mundy. "We've got to analyze it today and tomorrow, take our medicine and get back to work."
The Panthers took an early 7-0 lead on a bizarre touchdown. With Philly Brown camping under a Bears punt, he was drilled by Teddy Williams before the ball arrived. Brown alertly scooped up the ball after it had hit Williams and scampered 79 yards for a TD down the left sideline.
The Bears responded to the miscue on both sides of the ball. The defense generated takeaways on three of four possessions and the offense scored touchdowns on three straight drives. Two of the TDs came after the defense had handed the ball to the offense at the Carolina 28 and 13.
The turning point of the game came after the usually-reliable Robbie Gould missed a 35-yard-field goal attempt that could have given the Bears a 24-7 lead with 1:51 left in the half.
After gaining only 33 yards on 13 plays on their first five possessions that resulted in three turnovers and two punts, the Panthers (3-2) strung together touchdown drives of 75 yards to end the first half and 86 yards to open the second, tying the score 21-21.
"Carolina came back," Trestman said. "We know nobody goes away in this league and Carolina didn't."
Cutler accounted for three TDs on a 10-yard run and passes of 10 yards to Forte and 25 yards to Alshon Jeffery. But the Bears quarterback also committed three turnovers with two interceptions and a lost fumble. He completed 28 of 36 passes for 289 yards and a 95.5 rating.
Many of Cutler's completions came on screens and checkdowns against a Panthers defense that was determined to take away the big play. Forte had 12 receptions for 105 yards while rushing for 61 yards on 17 attempts. He scored his first TD of the season on a nifty 10-yard screen.
"[Cutler] had a high percentage of completions," Trestman said. "I'm sure there are a few that he wants to have back. We weren't perfect certainly on offense. We weren't perfect in what we did in the second half."