Bears on a playoff path thanks to dominating defense

In the Bears' 5-1 start, their defense has bailed out an offense that continues to struggle.
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By 670 The Score

(670 The Score) Inside the Bears' victorious locker room Sunday afternoon, quarterback Nick Foles danced to the beat of Meek Mill's "Dreams and Nightmares" like he did during his Super Bowl run in Philadelphia. Then he heard something that inspired his belief in his team.

Immediately after the Bears earned their 23-16 win over the Panthers, they sat in the Bank of America Stadium visitors' locker room and discussed how they could improve. Foles sensed his teammates aren't satisfied despite improving to 5-1.

"Great teams win no matter (what) it takes," Foles said. "So, I’m proud of our guys. I think we will continue to improve. Are we where we want to be? No, we’re not where we want to be."

Fortunately for the Bears, they have a defense that continues to win them games. While the Bears' offense continues to scuffle, the defense has been strong enough to lift the team, doing so in an opportune and dominating manner Sunday.

The Bears' league-leading red-zone defense held the Panthers to just one touchdown on three trips inside the 20-yard line, and Carolina's lone touchdown -- on running back Mike Davis one-yard rushing score -- came only after after a questionable pass interference call in the end zone on rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson.

Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had his worst performance with Carolina in facing the Chicago defense, which sacked him four times and had two interceptions. Bridgewater was 16-of-29 for 216 yards and a 50.4 passer rating. Meanwhile, Davis was held in check with 18 carries for 52 yards.

After the Bears' offense squandered its chance to seal the victory late in the fourth quarter by going three-and-out and punting with 1:40 remaining, reserve safety DeAndre Houston-Carson picked off Bridgewater to save the game.

But it wasn't just Bears offensive players who were talking about being better after the game. So too were those on the defensive side.

"I feel like we played solid," linebacker Roquan Smith said of the defense. "There's always room for improvement. I never really see it as a game where we just play lights out, because they scored."

Coach Matt Nagy disagreed with Smith.

"Our defense played lights out today," he said.

In an NFL season that's on pace to see many scoring records broken, the Bears are allowing only 19.3 points per game. The defensive unit has long believed it had a more dominant form that could emerge. Safety Eddie Jackson has spoken about the defense returning to its form of 2018, when Chicago led the NFL in scoring defense, rushing defense and takeaways.

The Bears once again looked like that game-breaking defense Sunday. Had the officiating crew not thrown the aforementioned penalty flag on Johnson or another earlier on cornerback Kyle Fuller that negated a pick-six by Jackson, it would've been a sizable win led by the defense.

Meanwhile, the Bears' offense averaged 4.1 yards per play. The league average was 5.7 yards per play entering Sunday. Nagy showed a greater commitment to the running game, but David Montgomery still managed just 58 yards on 19 carries. Foles was inconsistent, going 23-of-39 for 198 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

The Bears have an offense incapable of sustaining drives or a rhythm and a defense dominant enough to make up for it. They realize their record could easily be 1-5 instead of 5-1, but thanks to their dominant defense, the Bears are on a playoff path and can talk about improving after another win.

"That is what it's about," Foles said. "We're not getting complacent. We want to get better."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.