CHICAGO – The most important detail of the Bears’ preseason finale unfolded several yards away from the field Thursday against the Cleveland Browns.
After the opening kickoff, all of the Bears’ starters remained on the sidelines.
The Bears’ ultra-preventative measure was Lovie Smith’s best coaching decision of the night in a 28-20 win against the Browns that meant absolutely nothing.
As he watched a parade of backups, Jay Cutler wore a white baseball hat with the Bears’ traditional “C” in orange. Brandon Marshall sported a visor of the same style.
Lance Briggs provided some variety by wearing a blue Bears hat twisted backward.
On Sept. 9, Cutler, Marshall and all of the Bears’ starters are expected to wear helmets for all four quarters. They walked off of the field with a 3-1 preseason record, but by the time they returned to O’Hare Airport, that mark was wiped clean.
Zero wins, zero losses.
Granted, the Bears’ preseason finale offered a couple of feel-good storylines. Armando Allen stood out (134 total yards, 1 TD) in his quest to win a roster spot as the third-string running back. Dane Sanzenbacher made a terrific, one-handed catch for a 30-yard touchdown to bolster his bid for the sixth wide receiver job.
The Bears added a pair of touchdowns on defense and special teams, too. Rookie cornerback Greg McCoy, the Bears’ seventh-round pick in 2012, picked off a pass and returned it 15 yards to the end zone. A few minutes later, linebacker Patrick Trahan bull-rushed a Browns’ player into his punter, and Bears rookie Brittan Golden scooped up the loose ball and scrambled 22 yards for another score.
But one week from Sunday, none of those players will enjoy featured roles.
It’s going to come down to Cutler, Marshall, Matt Forte and company on offense. It’s going to come down to Brian Urlacher’s left knee and the health of his fellow 30-something teammates on defense. It’s going to come down to Devin Hester, the greatest kick returner in NFL history, to make a few big plays on special teams.
Is it possible for the Bears make a run deep into the playoffs? Absolutely.
It is likely? No one can say for sure.
After three weeks of training camp, four preseason games and countless questions about the roster, the Bears enter the regular season in nearly the same place as when they first headed to the practice field July 26 at Olivet Nazarene University.
Will the offensive line keep Cutler upright? Will Urlacher stay healthy for 16 games?
If those answers are yes, expect a thrilling season on the lakefront.
If those answers are no, expect challenges ahead in the talent-laden NFC North.
In a sideline interview with Fox during Thursday’s game, Briggs was asked whether the Bears’ defense was ready for the start of the regular season.
“We’re just about ready,” Briggs said.
Naturally, the follow-up question was whether Urlacher would be ready.
Briggs nodded and replied.
“I can’t even tell you how important he is to our defense,” said Briggs, who has played alongside Urlacher since 2003. “I think everyone kind of understands that. I’m looking forward to him being there [as the] man in the middle again.”
Yet the strength of Urlacher’s knee remains a question.
It was a question in late July. It still is a question in late August.
Thankfully, real football – and some real answers – is almost here.