Somewhere between Matt Forte’s hard runs down the field and Earl Bennett’s gutsy grabs across the middle, one thing became clear Saturday.
This isn’t the hopeless Bears offense of 2010.
Thank goodness for that.
Although the Bears lost, 14-13, to the Tennessee Titans, positives outweighed negatives in the team’s third preseason game. The Bears’ starters outplayed the Titans’ on both sides of the ball, and if not for a pick-six mistake by backup quarterback Caleb Hanie in the second half, they would have flown home with a second preseason win.
Not that it matters, of course.
Throughout the week, almost anyone with an orange “C” on his helmet insisted that preseason games were little more than glorified practices.
Don’t pay attention to the statistics, they insisted.
Wait until the regular season to make any big-picture declarations, they pleaded.
Put away the microscopes and take a few deep breaths, they said.
Got it. Now is not the time to overreact.
But is it OK to feel good when the Bears offer reasons for optimism?
Surely, it’s fair to acknowledge what appears to be noticeable progress by the first-team offense. The final score might not matter, but a competent offensive line, a confident quarterback and a powerful running back must mean something.
Few of those features were evident last season when the Bears finished No. 30 out of 32 NFL teams in total offense.
On Saturday, Cutler played into the third quarter and was not sacked once. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 170 yards, and all but a couple of his throws were on target.
An early misconnection between Cutler and Roy “Don’t Call It A Drop” Williams could have derailed the slight progress that the Bears’ first-team offense made a week ago against the New York Giants.
On the Bears’ first pass play against the Titans, Williams reeled in his first reception for 17 yards with an impressive grab along the right sideline.
One pass later, Williams could not haul in Cutler’s pass across the middle, and the ball was deflected for a Titans interception.
To his credit, Cutler didn’t pout, sulk or scream after the turnover. He didn’t angrily unsnap his chinstrap or gesture at a teammate or berate an official.
In other words, Cutler didn’t act like he did last season.
Instead, Cutler continued to seek out Williams as well as fellow receivers Johnny Knox, Devin Hester, Dane Sanzenbacher and – most reliably – Bennett.
Meanwhile, Forte ran with power and purpose for 74 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
In the final minute of the first half, Cutler fired another pass across the middle to Williams. This time, Williams held on to the ball for a 16-yard gain.
So maybe the play didn’t guarantee a berth in Super Bowl XLVI. But it was another good sign on another good night for the Bears’ offense.
Cutler said as much during a sideline interview with the Bears’ TV broadcast team.
“We got better,” Cutler said. “That’s what we wanted to do.
“The O-line played really well. We’ve still got some work to do in the passing game to get everyone on the same page, but I think we accomplished some good things.”
Even in the preseason, that has to count for something.