"The game of football is the same as it's been since the second half of the
New Orleans game," Bears offensive coordinator John Shoop said. "If you start to turn the ball over, it's going to be hard to win.
"And we started to turn the ball over and the momentum really changed."
The injuries continued for the Bears (4-11) with quarterback Chris Chandler suffering a second-quarter concussion after a quick start. More inexperience on the field in quarterback Henry Burris, led to turnovers. Other inexperienced players -- Ahmad Merritt and Roosevelt Williams -- cost the Bears with mistakes, as well.
By halftime the Bears were down 21-7 in a game they had led 7-0 after Dez White caught a 76-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage. They managed only 106 yards of offense after the game's first minute.
"Offensively, we started out really well and then for a couple series in there before Chris got hurt we didn't protect him very well," coach Dick Jauron said. "We weren't running the ball either. When that happens to us, it's going to be a long day."
Aside from the 76-yard pass, a 27-yard toss to tight end John Gilmore and a 28-yarder from Burris to Marcus Robinson just before halftime, the Bears managed only 1 net yard of first-half offense.
Eleven of the Bears' first 12 possessions lasted three plays or less. The only other scoring opportunity they had until the fourth quarter was Paul Edinger's blocked 48-yard field goal just before halftime.
"Our defense, I thought, played an outstanding game," coach Dick Jauron said. "They gave up one long one. The rest of the scores were field position scores, really. I suppose they could have played better. Clearly, you can always play better if you lose the football game, but I thought they did a nice job."
The only real big-play breakdown occurred two minutes into the second quarter.
Rodney Peete found Steve Smith on a slant play. Instead of allowing the third-and-six catch for a first-down in Carolina territory, rookie cornerback Roosevelt Williams made an attempt to shove Smith into other tacklers with one hand and it only gave him more impetus to split the Bears' defense and go 69 yards to the Bears' 2. They scored one play later on Dee Brown's 2-yard dive to tie the game.
"It was all my fault," Williams said. "I was waiting for somebody else to make the play. I take full responsibility for it. I was right on him, but I saw the hip coming inside. I didn't want to crash and get anybody hurt.
"I shoved him into the tacklers, but I take full responsibility."
Merritt is more experienced than Williams, but still a rookie returning punts. It showed when he muffed a punt at the Bears' 11 and three plays later with 8:38 left in the first half the Panthers led 14-7 on Brown's second 1-yard TD run.
"I was having a little trouble with the wind today, that's all," Merritt said. "I misjudged it. It dropped on me at the last second.
"I probably should have not tried to field it at all. But I made a bad decision and it cost us a little bit."
The Panthers (6-9) needed to drive only 41 yards for their third touchdown of the second quarter. After coming in for Chandler, who had completed 7-of-8 for 113 yards, Burris lost a fumble to linebacker Will Witherspoon when sacked. A pass interference penalty on Williams of 22 yards gave Carolina the ball at the Bears' 5 and Peete hit Muhsin Muhammad for a 3-yard TD and 21-7 lead.
"We gave up points," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. "We make them kick field goals, we still win the football game. There's an opportunity for us to take 12 points off the board. If we take 12 points off the board, we win 14-12.
"What we did in our red zone, our goal line defense wasn't that good. We let them in the end zone three times. That's why you get beat."
Burris teed up the Panthers for one more easy score after the Bears' own defense had done the same for their offense.
Brian Urlacher returned a Rodney Peete fumble 43 yards to the Carolina 8 to set up Burris' third-and-goal TD pass of 5 yards to Dez White.
But Burris, who completed 8-of-22 for 50 yards, lost another fumble to linebacker Mark Fields at the Bears' 7 when sacked by Fields for a 10-yard loss.
The ensuing 25-yard Shayne Graham sealed made it 24-14 and sealed the win with 5:16 to play.
The Bears matched their season-high of fumbles lost with four while compiling a season-low 186 net yards of offense.
"They a did a good job of mixing up things and putting pressure on us, trying to throw me off a little bit," Burris said. "They also did a good job of causing turnovers."
Inexperience, turnovers and injuries have become the legacy of the 2002 Bears.
"We'll keep on fighting," tackle James "Big Cat" Williams said. "There's one left you've got to fight through."
After Sunday night's game in Champaign against the Bucs, there will be no more turnovers, no more inexperience and no more injuries for the Bears to worry about.