If this eventually will be viewed as a statement game, then the man who had to speak through a fractured jaw made a loud one whose impact was surpassed only by the Bears' performance.
"We responded," right tackle Fred Miller said.
Capping a tumultuous week that included questions about a fight between Miller and center Olin Kreutz as well as about their playoff legitimacy, the Bears responded in all aspects.
Eight sacks for the first time in 14 years and two interceptions by Nathan Vasher sparked a defensive effort that held their fifth opponent without a touchdown and limited Carolina to 238 yards.
The offensive line kept Kyle Orton's uniform clean and shredded Carolina's vaunted run defense for 122 rushing yards.
And Orton, in what's becoming the norm, made enough playsincluding a 3-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammadto silence the Rex Grossman supporters for another week.
A combination of hard work, talent and a dash of luck seems to be sending everything the Bears' way, including six straight victories.
At this rate, the FBI's internal investigation of events at its North Chicago shooting range that involved Bears, alcohol and punches will end with Lovie Smith being named head of national security.
Smith will settle for being coach of the first-place Bears (7-3), who, by virtue of this impressive victory, are major players in the NFC playoff picture.
"We realize this is just one win and we have another big one coming," Smith said. "But it's a good measuring stick for where we are.
It's safe to say we're playing pretty good football right now."
That amounts to a celebratory end-zone dance for the sober Smith, whose measured approach was mentioned several times in a postgame locker room devoid of satisfaction.
Laserlike focus on the task at hand has gone a long way in helping the Bears dig out of a 1-3 hole. It also helped them block out the Kreutz-Miller distraction, which surfaced last week but which players knew about before last week's game.
"That's what coach Smith has been preaching: We have a task at hand," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said.
"Everything else is a distraction. That was his message all week. It's over. Let's focus on who we're playing, and that's Carolina."
Billed as an NFC heavyweight, Carolina collapsed early under steady pressure from both Bears lines.
Before tailgaters' charcoal had cooled, Vasher had intercepted two ill-advised Jake Delhomme passes, Carolina's starting middle linebacker had left with an injury and Muhammad had had more passes thrown to him in the end zoneone caught, one droppedthan Carolina did first downs.
Vasher's first pick and 46-yard return ended Carolina's first possession and set up the Bears at the Panthers' 8. Three plays later, Muhammad crept in front of cornerback Ken Lucas and safety Marlon McCree for a touchdown, his signature celebratory walk and a deep pass to fans in the north end zone.
Vasher's second pick and 22-yard return ended Carolina's third possession and led to Robbie Gould's 33-yard field goal after Muhammad dropped a well-thrown Orton pass in the end zone.