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Defense again left in tough situation in loss

Derrick Brown

CHICAGO — Once again, a Panthers team was in a game when it didn't necessarily have any business being in one.

And once again, it was because of their defense.

Despite the many injury-related absences and despite the lack of support from the offense, the Panthers played well enough to leave Soldier Field with a win. But they didn't. And while the disparity between the sides may be hard for others to explain, veteran cornerback Donte Jackson said it wasn't complicated to not point fingers.

"That's easy; it's a team game," Jackson said in the moments after the 16-13 loss to the Bears which dropped the Panthers to 1-8. "We know we're all in this together, you know what I'm saying? So it's an easy thing to stay together.

"That's our brothers, and we just have to keep on going out there doing what we've got to do."

Considering the situation, what they're doing to keep things close is nothing short of amazing.

Even though they got starting safeties Vonn Bell and Xavier Woods back on the field together for the first time since Week 3, the rest of the defense had an extremely mix-and-match quality.

Starting outside linebackers Brian Burns (concussion protocol) and Justin Houston (IR) were out, as was the top backup at that position Yetur Gross-Matos (IR). And they're still feeling the effects of the absence of their signal caller and top inside linebacker Shaq Thompson (IR, broken leg, won't return this year) and their best cornerback Jaycee Horn (IR, though he could return soon). Plus, Horn's replacement CJ Henderson was also out (concussion protocol), and he didn't even travel.

That means the Panthers were playing an odd lot of parts on defense, including DJ Johnson and Amaré Barno at outside linebacker (with their 2.0 career sacks combined, both by Barno last year) instead of a pair of guys with 155.0 career sacks between them. And then there was cornerback Dicaprio Bootle (who began the year in Chiefs camp, came here on the practice squad before earning a spot on the 53 by attrition) starting along with the existing collection of players they thought would be depth pieces. Thursday, it was journeyman linebackers such as Deion Jones and Kamu Grugier-Hill making plays, undrafted rookie Eku Leota supporting the edge, and former street free agents signed after training camp tryouts LaBryan Ray and Nick Thurman on the defensive line. This was not the plan.

And it still almost worked.

The Bears are not an offensive juggernaut under any circumstance, but the Panthers held them to a single touchdown and 162 passing yards.

That ought to have been enough, except the Panthers hit new lows in offense (213 yards of their own).

"Tough loss. Credit to the Bears. Hard-fought game. We knew it would be," Panthers head coach Frank Reich said. "Defense continues to play great football. Special teams played great. Offensively, we were poor.

"Today was not a question of beating ourselves. We just didn't execute as well as we needed to execute to win a football game."

On defense, they almost did.

The one thing the Bears do reliably with the ball is run, entering the game fourth in the league at 135.3 yards per game. The Bears approached that, getting to 133 yards, but it took them 37 carries to get there, and most teams would sign up for a 3.6 yards per carry average allowed against a passing-deficient team.

Derrick Brown

Defensive tackle Derrick Brown, in particular, played well, with 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits.

But it was little consolation, considering the record and the situation they're faced with playing alongside an offense that hasn't found its footing.

Jackson, as much of a spokesman as is left around to speak on it, admitted it "definitely takes a toll."

"I'm not going to sit here and act like it's not, you know," he said. "It's definitely frustrating, but like I said, we're grown men. Ain't nobody going to come feel sorry for us, ain't nobody going to come save us. We've just got to do everything we do better. . . .

"It's a team game, and we don't split down the middle. We're all in this together, and that, that's how it's gonna be, you know what I'm saying? I've got faith in them. I've got trust in them to go out and do everything they need to do to be better. And then we have to, too, on defense. We've got a lot of stuff that we need to get better on, too, and that's why we're all in this together as a team and we're going to just keep working."

View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Chicago Bears in Week 10 of the regular season.

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