On just the second play of defensive end Montez Sweat's home debut as a Bear, he quickly shed a chip block, took an inside angle to pressure Panthers quarterback Bryce Young and forced the rookie to throw it away, landing his first QB hit of the game.
Sweat went on to rattle Young on nearly every possession Thursday night, totaling eight quarterback pressures and three QB hits and giving Bears fans a taste of what they're hoping to see from the newly-signed pass rusher.
"It was great to come out here and get a dub," Sweat said. "We really needed it. We felt like we could get a dub here and it's great to get one for my first home game as well. … It was fun. A defensive game, I wouldn't want it any other way."
While Sweat made sure to spread the love around the Bears locker room following the team's 16-13 win against Carolina, his new teammates weren't shy to acknowledge how his presence caused a positive shift in the defense.
"I saw him for four years straight when I was in Philadelphia so I already knew the kind of problems that he causes for offenses," linebacker T.J. Edwards said. "He can do it all. He's athletic, he's big, he's strong, really good set of moves and things like that. So it only helps us for sure."
With the attention Sweat demands at all times, other Bears defensive linemen found opportunities to make splashes as the unit generated nine quarterback hits and three sacks. Defensive tackle Justin Jones recorded three of those hits, a career high, and one sack, telling reporters that Sweat's presence "for sure" freed him up.
"He's very, very physical being on that edge," Jones said. "You have to chip, double team, know where he's at at all times. With that being said, it takes the pressure off everyone else and allows other guys to be free and win one-on-ones. I felt like we were able to really show that today so it's good having him around. He's a very, very smart player and complements the guys we already have. It's cool for him to be a part of the group, it's good to have him."
Despite Sweat rarely being left one-on-one, Jones was impressed with the pass rusher's ability to still affect the quarterback himself. Jones added "that just tells you what type of player he is."
While the Bears' defensive front executed their assignments, the secondary also played a key factor in getting to Young Thursday night by giving the line an extra second or two to get home.
"I thought we had tight coverage throughout the duration of the game," cornerback Jaylon Johnson said, "allowing the quarterback to pump and hold the ball a little bit, allowing the D-line to get there. They did a heck of a job pressuring and getting sacks. I feel like overall, top to bottom, we played a solid game together."
The back end of the defense also gave Young troubles in the passing game, limiting the top pick in last year's draft to 185 yards and a 55.3 completion percentage. The unit also held two-time Pro Bowler Adam Thielen to 42 receiving yards on six catches and 10 targets.
Nickel back Kyler Gordon was instrumental in all facets of the defense, totaling a season-high eight tackles, including seven solo, two tackles-for-loss and a pass breakup.
The second-year pro generated big plays at crucial moments, including early in the fourth quarter on third-and-5. Gordon played tight coverage on Panthers receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. and deflected Young's throw right at the first down marker, forcing Carolina to settle for a field goal and preserving the Bears' lead.
Along with finding his groove again after breaking his hand in Week 1 and missing four games earlier this season, Gordon is seeing the entire Bears defense gel together and find their identity.
"We're getting our flow, getting stronger and stronger every week," Gordon said, "guys knowing their assignments, guys winning their one-on-ones and just being confident in their jobs. Everyone's going out there and executing, so when we do that it just makes the game easier for everybody."
Check out the best images—taken by Bears photographers—from Thursday night's victory over the Panthers at Soldier Field.
That unity as a defense throughout Thursday's game culminated during the Panthers' final 15-play, nearly six-minute drive in the fourth quarter. With punter Trenton Gill pinning Carolina at their own 9 to begin the possession, Johnson said the group had a "bend but don't break" mentality, focusing on keeping everything in front and letting the clock run.
Carolina reached the Chicago 41 with just under two minutes to go, but the Bears forced Young to throw three incompletions, leading to Eddy Piñeiro's 59-yard field falling short on fourth down.
Holding the Panthers to only two field goals was an accomplishment felt by the entire Bears defense. As the group continues fine-tune the details and build on their recent strong performances, they feel confident in stacking wins during the back half of the season.
"We gonna keep fighting, keep chopping wood no matter what happens," safety Eddie Jackson said. "No matter the circumstance, everybody on the field is gonna rally around each other. We're gonna go out there and make plays. We're just showing what we can do when everyone's on one page, attention to detail, everyone's locked in.
"That's just a preview of it. We're ready to get 'Maine (linebacker Tremaine Edmunds) back and get this thing rolling in the right direction. To have everybody out there and the field together on defense, we're gonna see what we're really capable of on that side of the ball."