Pair Of Shockers
Last week, the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears each went on the road and stunned a member of the AFC's elite. Now, one of them will emerge from Week 2 as a surprising, early season NFC front-runner.
The Panthers and Bears each attempt to ride the momentum from Week 1 to a 2-0 record when they meet Sunday in Charlotte, N.C.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Carolina -3 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 37% of bets for this game have been placed on Carolina -3 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Chicago and Carolina both stumbled to 7-9 finishes in 2007, with shaky quarterback situations factoring in their losing records. The Panthers lost veteran starter Jake Delhomme to season-ending elbow ligament surgery in September, while the Bears - using a quarterback carousel of Rex Grossman, Brian Griese and Kyle Orton - didn't come close to repeating their 2006 run to the Super Bowl.
The 2008 season began far better for both teams. While a healthy Delhomme rallied the Panthers to a dramatic 26-24 victory over reigning AFC West champion San Diego last Sunday, Orton played effectively to help the Bears stun Indianapolis 29-13 in a rematch of Chicago's Super Bowl loss from two seasons ago.
Delhomme made his return a triumphant one, driving the Panthers 68 yards in a two-minute drill culminating with a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dante Rosario on the game's final play. The quarterback completed 8 of 11 passes on the winning drive, and finished the day 23-of-41 for 247 yards without an interception.
The victory had even more meaning for Delhomme after he had to watch the final 13 games of last season from the sidelines.
"We're always one game away, so just enjoy the heck out of it," said Delhomme, who engineered his 10th career game-winning drive in the final two minutes or overtime. "I put a lot on myself, don't get me wrong, but I embrace it more instead of (thinking) 'You can't let them down. You can't let them down.' I still have that, but you prepare and you go out and play, and hopefully it's good enough."
He'll now try to lead the Panthers to their first 2-0 start since 2003, when they opened with five straight wins behind Delhomme en route to the only Super Bowl appearance in their history.
Delhomme also benefited from a strong ground game that produced 142 rushing yards in the season opener. Third-year back D'Angelo Williams, who came off the bench in his first two seasons, started and gained 86 yards on 18 carries, while rookie Jonathan Stewart ran 10 times for 53 yards.
Carolina selected Stewart 13th overall in April's draft. Exactly one round later, the Bears drafted running back Matt Forte out of Tulane. In Week 1, Forte looked like a budding star.
The first Chicago rookie to start the opener at running back since Walter Payton in 1975, Forte gained 123 yards on 23 carries and had a 50-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
"We've always been a running football team," Orton said. "Any time you can do that, control the ball, you're going to have a good game. That's how we play football."
Orton, who beat out Grossman for the Bears' starting job in training camp, went 13-for-21 for 150 yards while completing passes to seven different receivers. Chicago did not turn the ball over - something the 2007 team accomplished only four times during a season in which it totaled 34 giveaways. The Bears also were efficient on third down, converting 10 of 16 opportunities.
On the defensive side of the ball, Chicago limited the Colts to 53 rushing yards, scored on Lance Briggs' 21-yard fumble return and forced Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning into several poor throws.
"It's kind of our mantra, attack up front," defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek said. "We wanted to establish a new line of scrimmage, stop the run, put pressure on Manning. Everyone was flying around all over the place."
These franchises have only met three times, with Chicago holding a 2-1 edge but the home team winning each game. The most recent matchup was a 13-3 Bears win on Nov. 20, 2005, when Chicago intercepted Delhomme twice and sacked him eight times. Orton started that game for the Bears, going 15-for-26 for 136 yards with one TD and one interception.
Carolina wideout Steve Smith, who caught 14 passes for 169 yards in the 2005 meeting, will not play Sunday. He's completing a two-game team suspension for breaking teammate Ken Lucas' nose in a fight during training camp.
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