LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Quarterback Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears offense struggled enough against Carolina to elicit boos from Soldier Field fans, and receive a poor review of their inconsistency a day later from coach Lovie Smith.
Cutler got sacked six times in the first half and has been sacked 11 times in two games, while the running game bogged down in the second half after a fast start Sunday against a Panthers team with one victory.
"We realize we didn't play our best ball, but we're not going to apologize for the win," Smith said Monday. "We're going to take it."
Cutler had only 80 passing yards heading into the fourth quarter before coming on to hit 12 of his last 14 passes for 106 yards for a final quarter passing rating of 122.0. He came into the game leading the NFL in fourth-quarter passer rating at 125.0.
The slow start was startling given the emphasis the Bears placed the previous week on starting fast. And now their schedule is going to become far more difficult. After their game in Tennessee on Sunday, only one more game is against a team currently with a losing record.
"I told those guys (teammates) it was a boo-worthy performance if you will," Cutler said. "It was pathetic offensively what we put out there. It wasn't up to standard, product-wise. We have to get better, we know that, our fans know that. Luckily enough we got out of there with a win but the first half is nothing to be proud of."
While the Bears are trying to reach the halfway point with a 7-1 record, the defense has scored 42 of their 143 points with six touchdowns. This comes in a season when it had been assumed the offense would be able to carry an aging defense at times.
About the only consistent part of the offense has been wide receiver Brandon Marshall, whose 50 catches through seven games are 13 more than any Bears wide receiver had for the entire 2011 season.
The Bears went to quicker quarterback drops by Cutler in their no-huddle offense at game's end to pull out the win with Robbie Gould's last-second 41-yard field goal, but Smith doubts they'll be resorting to anything like that to spark the offense in the future.
"It is about execution most of the time, but we're not going to change what we believe in or anything like that," he said. "We are going to do it better, but again, we're not going to apologize for being 6-1 and not playing our best game and getting a win."
The offense continues to play without wide receiver Alshon Jeffery due to a fractured hand, but his return after two contests away seems unlikely.
"I mean were not worried," Cutler said. "I don't think you can hit the panic button offensively. We just need to keep getting better. We have to keep looking at our mistakes, keep improving and keep trying to work on things week-in and week-out. It's never easy in this league."
Smith added that the offense's success so far can be measured by more than yardage and even points.
"Our offense has allowed us to get to a 6-1 record," he said. "... I'm looking at ball security and each week what does it take, what do we need our offense to do in order for us to win the football game. I've been pleased with that or we wouldn't have six wins.
"Now, are we going to make a jump and will we have to rely on our offense to carry us a few football games and will we be able to do that? Yes. I think that is when you will really see what we truly are as an offensive team."