CHICAGO Ron Rivera promised change in the running game, and the coaching staff delivered a completely different scheme on Sunday.
The Panthers nearly eliminated the zone-read, and Jonathan Stewart was the featured back for the second consecutive week. DeAngelo Williams, who a team source said has been the subject of calls from other teams about a possible trade, came off the bench for the second straight game and the fifth time in his career.
Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski dialed up handoffs to Stewart out of I-formation and offset I-formation rather than using the option-based zone-read rushes the Panthers have used all season.
Entering the game, zone-read had accounted for nearly 60 percent of the teams rushes, but the team didnt use a single true zone-read rush against the Bears. That meant fewer in-game decisions for Cam Newton, who, with passes and zone-reads, would sometimes have to make upwards of 50 decisions himself.
I could care less what they decide to do, Newton said of the play calling. My job is to be the best player that I can be, whatever they put in. Im just going to go back doing the things they coach up on.
For the first time all season, Stewart led the team in rushing with 42 yards on 17 carries. Newton finished with 37 yards on five carries, including a 16-yard run on a third-and-1 bootleg.
But offensive tackle Jordan Gross said elements of the run game were familiar, and abandoning the zone-read was not the magic cure-all, obviously.
Williams finished with 33 yards on 11 attempts, first getting on the field during the Panthers fourth drive. Questions have surrounded the running backs future with the team with the change in running scheme, and a team source said a playoff team needing a running back has inquired about a possible trade.
Well I guess I get to see if all the trade rumors are true or false this Tuesday! Stay tuned, Williams tweeted after the game.
Williams signed a five-year, $43 million contract extension in 2011, and should the Panthers trade him, theyll be on the hook for nearly $10 million in prorated signing bonus money.
Gross said talk of Williams being traded before the Tuesday deadline hasnt been a distraction in the locker room, though.
I said all week to the guys that if you could handle the week we just went through you could handle anything, Gross said. I know hes not happy with the situation hes in right now. But thats whats being asked of him, and he ran as hard as he could today when he got the ball.
GROSS SETS MARK: By starting on Sunday, Gross set a franchise mark for most starts in team history.
Gross, a 10-year veteran from Utah, registered his 142nd career start against the Bears, surpassing Muhsin Muhammad and Mike Minter.
He said last week its probably not good for the brain to hold the record, and he was surprised he had more starts than Steve Smith (137).
The record would have certainly been sweeter for Gross had the Panthers beat the Bears.
If we could give that effort every week, and I keep saying it, and Im starting to sound like an idiot, but well win some games, Gross said.
FAILED CONVERSION: When Jay Cutler threw an interception on a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, rookie cornerback Josh Norman took off for the end zone.
The only problem: The play was dead.
An intercepted pass on a two-point conversion cant be returned for a score, but Norman didnt know that. He went the length of the field while Cutler and several other Bears gave chase.
I did (think that he could return it), Norman said. I dont really inquire about a rule. They thought so too because they were running too. I got in there, they waved it off or whatever.
• Rivera said a win in Chicago would have been sweet. He was wearing his Super Bowl ring that he won with the 1985 Bears on Sunday.
By the numbers
6 First-half sacks by the Panthers, including three by Greg Hardy. Thats the most in a half all season.
8 Number of seconds it took for the Bears to score 13 points in the second half on back-to-back touchdowns.
118 Receiving yards for Steve Smith, who had his 41st career 100-plus yard game.
2 Third-down conversions, in eight attempts, for Chicago. The Bears first conversion came with nine minutes left in the game.
13:16 Time of possession advantage held by Carolina over Chicago.
• You make your own fortunes in this league. You make your own bed. Its very simple. Tight end Greg Olsen on if the team is snake-bitten.
• I am running out of ways to describe this. Rivera on the 2012 season.
• Im sitting here shaking, a little bit of the cold weather, a little bit nervous and (Cutler) just starts smiling like, Well, here we go, and just put me at ease right away. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall on the quarterbacks demeanor during the last drive.
• It would be easy for me to say that, given what the statistics say about (playing) after Monday (night game), but I cant. We didnt play well. I didnt get the team ready to play for whatever reason. Chicago head coach Lovie Smith.
Staff writers Joseph Person and Scott Fowler contributed to this article.