Bears lose seventh straight on road

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Booed off their own field a year ago, the
Carolina Panthers made winning back their fans a top priority in
their slow rebuilding process.

Question on the Bears: Should they gamble on another first-round QB or should they fill their need through free agency?
It depends on who's on the board when the Bears draft. Good personnel people tell me that they draft the best player available, not solely by position. The Bears do need to address their QB situation, whether via a trade, the draft or free agency. It's tough to tell now which is the best route, but that will become clearer in the offseason.

Question on the Panthers: Is Lamar Smith the answer or will they be in the market at running back?
The Panthers have an issue at quarterback first. Rodney Peete has done a good job this season, but because of his age (38) he's not the long-term answer. He could come back for another year, though. Do the Panthers want him back as the starter? Regarding the running-back situation, on non-playoff teams at this time of the year, everyone's job is on the line. So it's probably too early to say Smith is the definite answer for next season.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

They made a small stride on Sunday with a 24-14 victory over the
Chicago Bears to finish the year .500 at Ericsson Stadium _ where
they went winless last season and were humiliated in their final

"When you are trying to build something, (winning at home) was
real big for us,'' said first-year coach John Fox. "I think our
fans have been patient to say the least. We are making strides and
building some type of momentum.''

The win proved how far the Panthers (6-9) have come under Fox,
who inherited a team that set an NFL record for 15 straight losses
in a season and closed the year by being blown out at home, 38-6 by
the New England Patriots.

The crowd that day was dominated by Patriots fans and the few
Carolina supporters in attendance showered the Panthers with jeers
and taunts that were heard loud and clear by management.

So Fox spent most of the week stressing to the Panthers that
they had to win their home finale for the fans.

"The fans have been through so much the past few years with us
and they deserve to see us play well and to see us win,'' tight end
Wesley Walls said. "That was something we heard over and over this

While Carolina took another step out of the NFL cellar, the
Bears (4-11) took another step into it by losing their seventh
straight road game -- extending a season-long slide from last year's
13-3 record and the NFC Central Division title. Only Cincinnati
(two) and Detroit (three) have fewer wins than Chicago.

Chicago lost four fumbles, had a field goal blocked and punted
10 times.

"The game will never change. If you turn the ball over as many
times as we did ... you're not going to win the game,'' Chicago
coach Dick Jauron said.

The Bears were crippled early when Chris Chandler was knocked
out of the game with a concussion, stalling Chicago's offense.
Brentson Buckner was called for roughing the passer on the play,
but he thought the hit was clean.

"The explanation was I landed on him and if I had turned
sideways, I would have been fine,'' Buckner said. "Man, I'm 300
pounds and we're midair, and I'm not thinking turn sideways. This
is football, not falling out of a 10-story building.''

The Bears trailed 14-7 when Chandler was knocked out in the
second quarter and couldn't move the ball behind replacement Henry

Chandler completed 7 of 8 passes for 113 yards and Burris went
just 8-of-22 for 50 yards and had two fumbles that led to Carolina

"Chris went down and we had a young quarterback in there and of
course they are going to go out and try to ride him as much as they
can and they did a good job of it,'' running back Leon Johnson
said. "He was doing the best he can and that's all we can ask of

The Bears finished with just 186 yards of offense -- 76 of which
came on Chandler's touchdown pass to Dez White 47 seconds into the

The second quarter was especially brutal for Chicago, which had
just 1 yard of offense and allowed the Panthers to score two of
their three touchdowns after turnovers to take a 21-7 halftime

"I think when Chris got injured, we started reeling a little
bit and we just couldn't recover as a team,'' offensive coordinator
John Shoop said.

The Bears fell apart after Carolina's Dee Brown scored the first
of his two touchdowns to tie the score at 7.

Ahmad Merritt muffed a punt and Emmanuel McDaniel recovered on
Chicago's 11-yard line. Brown added his second touchdown three
plays later on a 1-yard run for a 14-7 Carolina lead.

After Burris came in, he fumbled his second snap on a sack by Al Wallace. A pass interference call in the end zone gave Carolina the
ball at the 5, and Muhsin Muhammad scored two plays later on a
3-yard pass from Peete to put the Panthers up 21-7.

Game notes
Carolina fans were calling for Walls to get the ball late
in the game. Walls, who could be a salary-cap casualty this winter,
had one catch for 9 yards. ... The Bears had 55 yards rushing. ...
Wallace, the replacement for suspended defensive end Julius Peppers, had two sacks. ... Chicago punter Brad Maynard bested Pro
Bowl-bound Todd Sauerbrun by averaging 44.5 yards a kick compared
to Sauerbrun's 40.3. ... Carolina linebacker Mark Fields recovered
two fumbles. ... Chris Weinke, the Panthers' starter last season,
slipped to third quarterback on the roster.

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