CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Bears' inability to protect the ball late in Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers turned a precarious 24-21 lead into a stinging 31-24 defeat.
The Chicago offense committed turnovers on each of its last three possessions over the final 5:56 of the fourth quarter, enabling the Panthers to score the tying and winning points.
It started when Jay Cutler sailed a pass over the middle over intended receiver Santonio Holmes to Panthers safety Thomas DeCoud, who returned the interception 35 yards to the Chicago 32.
"It just got away from me," Cutler said. "It just got high. Santonio was sneaking around the 'backer on a slant and it just got high and landed right in the guy's arms. High and over the middle of the field is never good."
The Bears defense held the Panthers without a first down, but Graham Gano's 44-yard field goal tied the score 24-24 with 4:29 left 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.
"You've just got to put two hands on it when you make contact," Forte said. "Initially I hit him and when I started fighting for extra yards I needed to put two hands on it."
The Panthers converted Forte's fumble into the go-ahead score as Cam Newton fired a 6-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen, giving Carolina a 31-24 lead with 2:18 remaining.
Taking over at their own 15, the Bears advanced to the 45 as Cutler completed three straight passes of 20 yards to Alshon Jeffery, four yards to Forte and six yards to Holmes.
But after two incompletions sandwiched around a sack resulted in fourth-and-21 from the Chicago 34, Cutler fumbled when he was sacked by Short and defensive end Charles Johnson recovered at the 28 with 1:06 to play to clinch the win for the Panthers.
Short came free due in part to a mix-up between left guard Matt Slauson and left tackle Michael Ola.
"There was a miscommunication by us," Slauson said. "Me and Ola have to do a better job communicating on that because I thought I was snapping off and he thought we were manning it. We just have to communicate that more."