(670 The Score) Believe it or not, the Bears are a first-place team.
Chicago earned a 23-16 win at Carolina on Sunday to improve to 5-1. The Bears now sit alone in first place in the NFC North after the Packers fell to 4-1 in losing at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here are the observations from the Bears-Panthers matchup.
Fiery Foles wants more
Tucked away in the bowels of Bank of America Stadium late Sunday afternoon, Bears quarterback Nick Foles pounded on a table.
Foles felt the exhaustion hitting him but still had some adrenaline kicking in after leading the Bears to a victory. And his mind was already on what was next.
"I like where we're at," Foles said. "I know we're going to improve. I believe in our staff, I believe in our players and I'm really grateful to be part of this organization."
The scene reminded everyone why the Bears brought the 31-year-old Foles to Chicago in March. He's a proven winner and the kind of individual you want on your side in this kind of situation. The Bears haven't looked the part of a 5-1 football team, but Foles is ready to push his teammates to the next level.
Foles also offers coach Matt Nagy the type of influence who can help him improve as a play-caller. That passionate exchange between Foles and Nagy during the Bears' win against the Buccaneers on Oct. 8 offered a glimpse at how Foles is willing to challenge even his own head coach in a constructive manner.
These Bears will likely never have the "fun" offense that Nagy had envisioned coming to fruition this season, but they can take steps forward simply by becoming more consistent. There are a number of ways they can do that. Foles needs to polish his play, the receivers have to run better routes, the offensive line needs to drastically improve and running back David Montgomery must provide a more dangerous rushing threat when he gets the chance.
The Bears rank 28th in total offense and 27th in scoring offense through Sunday night. What they're seeking is a competent offense that can complement a defense that's dominant again. Foles has the potential to lift the Bears to that level, which would perhaps legitimize them as a true contender.
An underwhelming performance
During his postgame media session, Nagy fielded a number of questions about his struggling offense before he wanted to change the subject.
"I understand we want to look at all the negatives and stuff," Nagy said with a smile. "But really, what's pretty cool is that our defense played lights out today.
"I'm pretty excited right now. We're 5-1."
Nagy's comments were all in fun, but he knows the questions won't be going away until the offense gets fixed.
The Bears struggled to move the ball against a Panthers defense that was weak in its first five games. Carolina was allowing 133.4 rushing yards before facing Chicago, which produced just 63 rushing yards on 25 carries, a 2.5 yards-per-carry average. Montgomery rushed 19 times for 58 yards.
Sunday should've been a statement for the Bears, with their offense finding its form and defense flustering its foe once again. Only part of that came to fruition. This offense still can't sustain drives and dictate a game. The Bears have struggled offensively through six games whether they're facing a defense that's great or poor.
The Bears should've inspired confidence Sunday. Instead, there are just more questions that Nagy must address.
But about this defense...
The Bears opened the game with a tackle for loss on the Panthers' opening play from scrimmage, then followed that with a sack on second down and an interception on third down.
It was the start of a dominating day from the Bears defense. Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater entered Sunday as the NFL's most efficient passer. The Bears rattled him the same way they did future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in their previous game.
Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has done an excellent job calling plays and has learned how to best utilize his talent in his second season in Chicago. One example came late in the first half, with the Panthers facing third-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Pagano set up linebacker Roquan Smith off the edge, which allowed Smith a pass rush without interference that forced Bridgewater to throw the ball away as the Bears made another stand in the red zone.
The Bears have also found success playing with a third safety on the field in sub packages. They did so 10 times Sunday, including on eight plays with DeAndre Houston-Carson. For a second consecutive week, Houston-Carson produced the final stop defensively -- this time with the fourth-quarter interception to seal it.
-- What was most impressive part about rookie tight end Cole Kmet's first career touchdown is that the play wasn't drawn up for him. Foles read the field and recognized a tight window through which he could connect with Kmet.
"Obviously, it was a dream come true," Kmet said of the score. "It was just pretty sweet."
-- By no means did Foles play his best football Sunday. His interception in the third quarter looked like so many thrown by Bears quarterbacks of the past. Foles called it a "dumb" throw, adding, "I got a little too aggressive trying to make a play. I'll learn from it and move on."
-- Facing a third-and-2 with 1:44 remaining, Nagy didn't trust his offense run the ball for a first down. He instead elected for Foles to target receiver Allen Robinson, who couldn't haul in the pass. A first down would've sealed the game for the Bears. A rushing play would've forced the Panthers to at least burn their last timeout. The worst-case scenario instead played out, with neither happening and the Bears being forced to punt.
-- If there's a silver lining in the Bears' struggles to score points, it's that they may have found a kicker. Cairo Santos was 3-for-3 on his field-goal attempts, including hitting a career-long 55-yarder. He's 10-of-12 on field-goal attempts season. Eddy Pineiro (groin) may not return to his role when healthy.
-- Safety Eddie Jackson was right to be frustrated with the officiating Sunday, as he had another interception for a touchdown negated by a penalty. But he better hope the NFL didn't see his since-deleted tweets about the questionable calls or he could have a steep fine coming his way.
-- The challenge gets steeper for the Bears soon, as their next three games are against the Rams (4-2), Saints (3-2) and Titans (5-0).
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.