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Cam Newton is struggling, but Bears still have nightmares from ’11

Panthers quarterback Cam Newthas been criticized this seasfor his play demeanor but he’s still formidable threat. | Bob Leverone~AP

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been criticized this season for his play and demeanor, but he’s still a formidable threat. | Bob Leverone~AP

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Updated: November 28, 2012 6:14AM

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is enduring a disconcerting second season.

Criticism has mounted, and he has failed to progress as defenses have altered their game plans for him.

The Bears, though, don’t care.

They’re trying to ignore all the wrong things going on with Newton. Instead, the Bears’ defense is focusing more on what Newton did so well against them last year. It’s preparing for good Cam, not erratic, look-bad-in-the-media Cam.

“We watched last year’s game against us quite a bit, and they gashed us,” linebacker Brian Urlacher said.

“They had 500-something yards of offense. So we’re going off of that. We’re not going off of what they’re doing this season. We’re going off what they did last year and what we need to do to stop him.”

The Bears prevailed 34-29 last season at Soldier Field, but the game showcased Newton’s array of skills. Regardless of coverage or pressure, the Bears just couldn’t stop him.

Newton accounted for more than 400 yards, threw a touchdown pass to ex-Bears tight end Greg Olsen and ran for two scores. It was an amazing performance against a veteran defense, part of a record-setting rookie season for Newton.

But as so often happens, defenses have adjusted. After opening the season with high hopes, the Panthers are 1-5, and there have been numerous stories criticizing Newton’s demeanor and leadership.

Carolina’s offense ranks 29th in points with a measly 106, and general manager Marty Hurney already has been fired.

Again, the Bears say they don’t care.

“The guy is a weapon,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “And right now, we’re very concerned with [Newton].”

Marinelli said he has gone to the 2011 tape a lot this week. Coach Lovie Smith also said they have a game plan in place for wide receiver Steve Smith, who had eight catches for 181 yards in last year’s meeting and has a history of success against the Bears’ zone coverages.

This season, Newton has failed to connect with Smith for a touchdown, and it’s clear their lack of production has hurt the young quarterback. If the Bears can eliminate Newton’s first option in Smith — like other teams have done this season — their already-solid chances Sunday vastly improve.

“You learn from your mistakes,” Marinelli said.

“They came in here, and they played extremely hard and extremely well, so we understand the talent they have, how good the quarterback, running backs [and] receivers are. We know what we’re in for.”

That also includes Newton’s explosive ability to run and scramble. The Bears failed to sack him last year.

Newton has completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 1,387 yards, five touchdowns, six interceptions and a 79.3 passer rating, but he’s the Panthers’ leading rusher despite having DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in the backfield.

Newton has rushed for 273 yards and three touchdowns.

With runs of 40, 32 and 24 yards, Newton is the first true running threat at quarterback the Bears will face this season.

A look at last year’s game film against the Bears showed the Panthers turned to Newton’s legs often in goal-line situations.

He had one- and two-yard touchdown runs. Of the Panthers’ five plays inside the Bears’ 5-yard line, Newton ran the ball three times.

“[He’s] still a good football player even though they haven’t gotten going on offense yet,” Urlacher said. ‘‘He’s still a big, strong, fast quarterback.”

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