CHICAGO — The Panthers had just blown another one, and Steve Smith couldn’t contain himself.
The 12-year veteran unloaded, wondering where this team is headed after watching Carolina collapse in the fourth quarter and lose 23-22 to the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
“It’s getting old,” Smith said. “There is a tradition growing here and I’m not sure which way this tradition is going.”
The Panthers are freefalling at the moment.
Robbie Gould kicked a 41-yard field goal as time expired after Jay Cutler rallied the Bears in the fourth quarter, giving the NFC North leaders a narrow win over a struggling team.
The Panthers led 19-7 in the fourth when the game turned in a big way.
Chicago (6-1) took over on the Carolina 38 after Brad Nortman shanked a 6-yard punt, and Cutler connected with Kellen Davis on a 12-yard scoring pass with just under 7 minutes left.
Then on Carolina’s next play from scrimmage, Smith slipped on an out pattern and Tim Jennings returned his second interception of the game 25 yards to make it 20-19, the pass failing on the 2-point attempt.
Cam Newton then drove the Panthers to the Chicago 27, and Justin Medlock’s 45-yard field goal hit the right upright and went through to put Carolina ahead 22-20 with 2:27 left.
Cutler moved the Bears 55 yards to the 23-yard line, completing 6 of 7 passes on the drive, before Gould nailed his winner.
For Newton and the Panthers (1-6), the vibe couldn’t be worse at the moment.
They fired their general manager during the week and then dropped their fifth straight game after dominating for most of the day.
Carolina rang up 416 yards and had six sacks against Cutler, with Greg Hardy getting to him three times. But somehow, Chicago pulled this one out.
“Not heartbreaking,” Smith said. “Tiresome, monotonous, a few guys in here are perturbed and (ticked), but we’re beyond heartbreak. We’re just getting upset.”
And coach Ron Rivera is running out of words to describe what’s happening.
“Our guys played well enough to give themselves a chance to win,” he said. “Who would have thought Steve Smith would slip? You have a great situation and set of circumstances, and that happens — and it’s tough. It really is. The guys played well, and the guys played hard.”