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Plenty of positives for Bears to build on in opener

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Bears defense appeared to be in midseason form, while the offense rebounded from a rough start in Friday night's 24-17 preseason-opening loss to the Carolina Panthers.

The ball-hawking defense picked up where it left off last year when the Bears led the NFL with 44 takeaways and nine defensive touchdowns, which tied for the second most in league history.


Bears cornerback Tim Jennings breaks up a pass to tight end Greg Olsen during Friday night's 24-17 loss to the Panthers.
The defense generated four takeaways and scored one touchdown Friday night. No play was bigger than the one produced by rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic, who intercepted a Cam Newton pass and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown midway through the first quarter.

"Really I was just a spy underneath, so I was reading Cam's eyes," said Bostic, a second-round draft pick from Florida. "I thought he was going to go a little bit more outside and I jumped back at the last second when I saw him come back inside, and I happened to be in the right place."

Bostic's touchdown tied the score 7-7. It came after Jay Cutler's pass intended for Alshon Jeffery over the middle was intercepted by cornerback Josh Norman on the Bears' first play from scrimmage. Norman returned the pick 11 yards to the Chicago 18, setting up Newton's three-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brandon LaFell, which gave Carolina an early 7-0 lead.

"Wrong shoulder, bad ball," Cutler said when asked about the interception. "I thought Alshon did a good job with his man. It was an unfortunate start, preseason first drive like that. But I thought we bounced back well and got a few first downs."

After the interception, Cutler rebounded to complete 6 of 7 passes for 56 yards before being replaced by backup Josh McCown at the outset of the second quarter.

"You obviously don't want to see [an interception] on the first play of the game, but I loved [Cutler's] demeanor," said coach Marc Trestman. "He came right back. I thought he was calm and went right back at it. We were able to talk on the sideline and work through it very easily and get back in the game."

The Bears took their only lead at 10-7 on Robbie Gould's 35-yard field goal early in the second quarter. The kick was set up by cornerback Zackary Bowman, who intercepted a Derek Anderson pass and returned it nine yards to the Chicago 49.

The Bears had a great chance to extend their lead after the defense forced its third turnover on four possessions. Cornerback Sherrick McManis did his best Charles Tillman impersonation, stripping the ball from running back Kenjon Barner on a screen pass and recovering it at the Carolina 25.

The Bears reached the 12-yard line. But tight end Fendi Onobun dropped a sure touchdown pass from McCown in the left corner of the end zone and running back Armando Allen lost a fumble on the next play. It was one of three crucial turnovers by the offense.

"These games aren't an indication of the kind of team we're going to have during the season because it wasn't that team," Trestman said. "But it's certainly an indication if you don't take care of the football what's going to happen to your team."

The Panthers scored the next two touchdowns of the game to take a 21-10 lead. Barner's five-yard TD run capped an 11-play, 82-yard drive with :18 left in the first half before Norman intercepted a Matt Blanchard pass and returned it 60 yards for a score midway through the third quarter.

Early in the fourth period, Bears rookie receiver Marquess Wilson produced the game's longest play from scrimmage when he caught a Blanchard pass over the middle and turned up the sideline, stepping out of bounds at the Carolina 4 after a 58-yard gain.

On the next play, rookie Michael Ford's four-yard touchdown run drew the Bears to within 21-17. But that's as close as they would get as Graham Gano produced the final points with a 50-yard field goal midway through the final period, widening the margin to 24-17.

"Nobody's ever happy to lose any game, but I think as we move forward we have something to build on," Trestman said. "I told the guys at the end this was a preseason game and we're still in training camp. We've got to get our rest tonight and take care of ourselves [Saturday] and we've got to come in Sunday morning ready to work for the next three days and get our focus back on finishing the job of having a great training camp."

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