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Time for Bears’ passing game to stand and deliver

Updated: November 15, 2011 10:07AM

After losing back-to-back games in large part because of the struggles of their offense, the Bears didn’t need to offer any apologies for their victory Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

Nearly a year ago, after an abysmal performance against the New York Giants, the Bears empowered running back Matt Forte to rip apart the Panthers. He responded with 166 rushing yards. He responded again Sunday by rushing for 205 yards, tied for the second-most in franchise history.

Quarterback Jay Cutler’s primary responsibility was not botching the handoff to the running back.

‘‘It makes my job really easy,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘We’re going downhill like that, we’re setting the edge and Matt’s having a field day out there.

‘‘It really gives us some opportunities to take some shots downfield. We didn’t really do it today, but maybe in the future.’’

The season will depend on it.

While quarterbacks are breaking records around the league, Cutler is trying to stay upright, to complete routine passes and — on Sunday, at least — to top
100 yards.

Yet the ineffectiveness of the Bears’ passing offense is alarming. The Green Bay Packers have one of the worst pass defenses in the league, and Panthers rookie Cam Newton passed for
432 yards against them in
Week 2. But when the Bears were still in the game against the Packers, Cutler completed just 12 of 26 passes for 199 yards, including two interceptions.

Against the Panthers, Cutler completed only
9 of 17 passes for 102 yards, including an interception. That might explain why the Bears converted only three of their 10 third downs. All three of those conversions came on completed passes, but the Bears stalled far too often on failed pass attempts.

‘‘We’re not playing perfect football; we know that,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘We should get better. We got the ‘W,’ which is always good, but there is going to be room for improvement.’’

The Panthers’ defense was overmatched, especially with key players such as Jon Beason and Thomas Davis lost earlier in the season to injuries. But the Bears now must prepare for a two-game stretch against teams with outstanding defensive lines. First up are the Detroit Lions, then come the Minnesota Vikings.

Forte’s production, especially on the ground, certainly will get the attention of those defenses. That might compel the Lions and Vikings to use the Packers’ strategy of making the Bears win without him.

‘‘They’re going to have to bring that safety down, then it’s one-on-one outside, and we got the speedsters — the little Smurfs — out there,’’ receiver Roy Williams said. ‘‘It’s going to be tough.’’

But the Bears haven’t exactly made anyone pay so far this season. Their longest pass play of the season came on a 56-yard screen to Forte in the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

Against the Panthers, the Bears’ longest pass play was a 22-yarder to Johnny Knox. Otherwise, they had to nickel-and-dime the Panthers for yards through the air.

‘‘These games happen,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘You have to manage the ballgame.’’

Cutler said the shuffling of the offensive line has made the passing game more of a challenge. That’s a fair point. Frank Omiyale was replaced at right tackle by Lance Louis, and Chris Spencer has remained at right guard. In addition, rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi probably won’t be ready for the game against the Lions.

‘‘Once we get those guys kind of stable .  .  . and get everything situated up there, we’ll get there,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘We’re still figuring it out.’’

But that solution better come soon — as in Monday in Detroit. Otherwise, the Bears might get embarrassed on national television.

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