(MCT) — CHICAGO — The extra work Kellen Davis put in last week paid off.
Davis was targeted for one pass Sunday during the Bears’ 23-22 victory over the Panthers. The tight end made that one opportunity count as he scored on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler over the middle. Davis had a clean release, then went up and got the ball high in front of safeties Sherrod Martin and Charles Godfrey.
“It was a regular down-and-distance play for us,” Davis said. “We ran it two or three times earlier in the game. ... Down in the red zone, it’s a good play for me because if they don’t drop their (middle) linebacker back in Cover-2, there’s a big hole back there.”
Davis entered Sunday’s game with nine catches but three drops. He spent extra time last week after practice working on his pass-catching.
“I’ve just got to make sure when Jay gets me the ball, I make the play,” Davis said.
Kicking the habit: The Bears’ average starting field position was their 37-yard line thanks, in part, to the Panthers’ decision to squib kickoffs.
Panthers kicker Justin Medlock said he just did what he was told to do when he refused to kick to Devin Hester. And Hester, who has yet to return a kick for a touchdown this season, was surprised.
“I was very surprised because right now, those guys are ranked No. 1 in kickoff coverage,” Hester said. “I thought that a kickoff unit ranked No. 1 would kick it off and let the guys play.”
The Bears adjusted to the Panthers’ strategy by putting sure-handed Eric Weems, Armando Allen and Earl Bennett in the game to help field the squibs.
Foul play: Bears safety Chris Conte admitted he got caught trying to do too much when Panthers quarterback Cam Newton hit Brandon LaFell for a 62-yard pass play. But Conte refused to take blame for a hit on LaFell in the third quarter.
Although the replay showed Conte didn’t lead with his head, the official called a personal foul on Conte for contact to the head of a defenseless receiver.
“It wasn’t a penalty, but I guess they called it a penalty,” Conte said. “If I get fined for it, I’ll definitely appeal it. I didn’t do anything. He’s diving into me. I don’t know what you want me to do.”
Close but no cigar: Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who played for the Bears and once was Lovie Smith’s defensive coordinator, is 0-2 vs. his former team.
“This would have been sweet, without a doubt in my mind,” Rivera said of almost winning at Soldier Field.
“Coming back and winning in Chicago, where I played and coached, it would have been outstanding. Especially against this group of guys. There are a lot of guys over there that I’m very fond of, and a lot of coaches that I know and that I’m very fond of as well.”
Third-down disaster: If there was something Rivera could be proud of, it was his offense’s ability to convert on third down against a stingy defense. The Panthers converted 10 of 19 (53 percent). Defensively, the Bears entered Sunday’s game fourth in the league on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 21 of 72 (29.2 percent).
“They kept drives going,” Smith said. “They were converting third downs. They were just doing everything right in the first half.”
Extra points: Defensive tackle Nate Collins was active for the first time this season and nearly got a sack on his first snap. ... The Bears played both Sherrick McManis and Zack Bowman on special teams, even though special-teams coordinator Dave Toub said it would be hard to keep both active. McManis returned from a hip injury. ... Fullback Evan Rodriguez did not play despite being active for the second straight game coming off a sprained MCL.