CHICAGO - The Panthers appeared poised for success early, but two costly turnovers proved to be too much to overcome in a 17-3 loss to the Chicago Bears.
"Three plays," head coach Ron Rivera said. "It came down to three plays. This game was won by the team that made those three plays, and that's the bottom line. When you go back and look at it, they scoop up a fumble and return it for a touchdown, intercept a ball and return it for a touchdown, and throw a 50-yard pass into the red zone and kick a field goal. That's the difference."
Quarterback Cam Newton completed three passes for 39 yards and scrambled for 14 more on the game's opening drive, but at the Bears' 24-yard line, Newton ran an option run with wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who fumbled the pitch. Rookie safety Eddie Jackson scooped up the loose ball and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown.
"The option, the pitch, that wasn't (Cam's) fault," Rivera said. "That ball should be caught."
Jackson, who was starting just his sixth career game, doubled his touchdown total in the second quarter. Newton dropped back just outside the red zone and threw bullet to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Cornerback Prince Amukamara tipped the pass, which Jackson hauled in and returned 76 yards for a touchdown.
"You got to give credit to what Amukamara did," Rivera said. "He got inside. If Kelvin can use his body, and should, that's a first down. That's just the way it is. The guy made a heck of a football play, and you got to give him credit."
On the Bears' ensuing drive, rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky opened up Carolina's defense with a 70-yard toss to rookie running back Tarik Cohen to set up Chicago's lone offensive points, courtesy of a 19-yard field goal. The Panthers defense did the job otherwise, holding Chicago to just three first downs before Chicago picked up a couple more in the closing minutes to run out the clock.
The two early turnovers deflated Carolina's offense, which only managed three points on the day, the Panthers' lowest point since a 30-3 loss to the Titans in Week 10 of Newton's rookie season in 2010.
"Those two turnovers hurt us, and we just couldn't seem to get our foot back," Newton said.
Carolina did total 108 rushing yards, which had been a concern in the previous two weeks. Newton led the way with 50 while running back Jonathan Stewart rushed for 48 yards. Despite two interceptions, Newton threw for 211 yards and completed nearly 62 percent of his passes.
"I know this, when you get almost 300 yards of total offense, rush for over 100 yards, you can't accept (losing)," Rivera said. "But you have to give them credit. They played hard. They kept us out of the end zone. We kicked a field goal, opted to go for it on fourth down to try to create some momentum and then we turned the ball over twice and they got two big plays. That's the truth of the matter."
View photos from Carolina's loss at Chicago.