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Thursday Night Football review: Chicago Bears beat Carolina Panthers

Week 10 kicked off with the Chicago Bears holding off the Carolina Panthers 16-13 in a close, low-scoring contest at Soldier Field to earn their third victory of the season.

Bryce Young, who was selected with the top pick Chicago traded to Carolina, struggled yet again as the Panthers’ lack of offensive production spoiled what was another good night for their defense and special teams.

The Bears’ rookie QB Tyson Bagent took care of the football on his fourth consecutive start, but looks set to return to backup duty next week when Justin Fields is expected to play. 

Bears’ top pick trade looks to pay dividends

The win brought an added bonus for the Bears, who move to 3-7 on the year and remain at the foot of the NFC North.

They acquired a 2024 first-round draft pick from Carolina in March in the trade that resulted in Carolina taking Young first overall in 2023.

And ensuring the Panthers, who are +180 to finish with the Worst Regular Season Record, fell to 1-8 boosts Chicago’s chances of being the first team on the clock in next April’s draft.

Most analysts expect a quarterback, and probably USC’s Caleb Williams, to be the first name called and few believe Chicago would pass on the chance of signing a talented QB next year. 

Fields has it all to prove down the stretch

The reason Chicago likely won't pass up a QB is because their 2021 top pick Justin Fields has yet to really prove he can play at a high level on a consistent basis.

Fields threw more picks than touchdowns over the first three weeks of the season and has a high sack rate.

The former Ohio State star had just begun to put some performances together with back-to-back four TD games against Denver and Washington before he sustained a dislocated thumb.

He was seen low-fiving and slapping teammates backs in the Bears’ locker room after the game in an indication that he will be ready to return for next week’s big NFC North matchup at the Detroit Lions.

While Fields needs to persuade key people within the organization that he can be the long-term starter, Bagent has probably done enough in these past four weeks to be recognized as a decent backup in the league.

The undrafted rookie completed 20 of 33 passes for 162 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions, giving him a higher completion percentage and quarterback rating than Fields.

Young's tale of woe is getting old

Held to just 185 passing yards by a Bears' defense that ranked 28th in the league against the pass coming into the game, Young again struggled to get the Panthers into scoring position.

The former Alabama star, who was picked off three times by the Indianapolis Colts last week, missed several throws and had a couple of passes that should have been intercepted.

Only Zach Wilson of the New York Jets has a worse QBR than Young through the first 10 weeks of the campaign

Meanwhile, Carolina converted only three of their 15 third down attempts and failed to score an offensive touchdown.

Reich remains on a hot seat

Those offensive struggles firmly place head coach Frank Reich on the hot seat in Charlotte.

In the same week that Panthers owner David Tepper fired the coach of his Major League Soccer franchise, Reich was left to answer questions about major calls he made in the game.

One was to attempt the potential game-tying 59-yard field goal with 1:40 remaining rather than go for it on fourth down and why he had called a timeout prior to the previous play.

"There was mixed opinions about what we should do," he confessed to reporters.

"That's my call. I've seen us make 60-yarders in practice. Felt like there was a little bit of a breeze at our back. If you just look at the pure percentages, I think the pure percentage play is to kick it. You know, fourth and ten conversion is probably 30% conversion, and 60-yard field goal is higher than that.

"Do I second guess myself over it? Yeah. After we missed it, yeah, I did. You know what I mean? The one reason why maybe you go for it there, even though the percentage play is to kick it, if you're just going pure percentages is to kick it, is because if we make it we still have a chance to win the game and not just tie. There was still time left. So yeah, that thought did go through my mind."

His critics will also point to a run-heavy policy on first down which bore little fruit for his struggling offense.

Punt return TDs proliferate in 2023

One of the highlight plays on the night, a 79-yard punt return by Ihmir Smith-Marsette, brought Carolina's only touchdown. 

It was an incredible weaving run from the former Chicago Bear through traffic before he veered right and outran the punter down the sideline.

Only 0.3% of punts (3 out of 952) were returned for touchdowns during the 2022 regular season.

But Smith-Marsette's masterpiece was the fifth punt return for a touchdown already this season and follows hot on the heels of Derius Davis' sensational 87-yard score against the Jets on Sunday.

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