If Friday night's third preseason game was a dress rehearsal for the start of the regular season, the Bears need to rehearse a lot more.
"Starting off in the first half, we didn't play as well as we need to with all three phases," coach Lovie Smith said. "We had a lot of dropped balls."
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In addition to that, quarterback Jay Cutler was off target much of the night, cornerback Charles Tillman was beaten repeatedly in coverage, the Bears couldn't run the ball, they couldn't get to Giants quarterback Eli Manning, and the situation at offensive left tackle didn't improve.
Oh, and a missed block by Harvey Unga resulted in the Giants blocking a Ryan Quigley punt, which led to a short TD drive. Eric Weems also fumbled a kickoff return, although he managed to recover the ball.
The Bears trailed 17-7 at halftime when the players who matter played. But they managed to come back for a 20-17 victory after the Giants' starters left the field.
The Cutler-Brandon Marshall combination that excited fans at Soldier Field early in last week's game got off to a fast start Friday at MetLife Stadium. Marshall's 21-yard TD reception from Cutler late in the first quarter was the Bears' first passing score of the preseason, and it was preceded by Marshall receptions of 8 and 11 yards.
"He makes life easy," Cutler said of Marshall, who had 5 catches for 51 yards. "But we missed too many things out there. I was talking to him when we came out. We just have to clean it up."
Smith was looking for his defensive line to pressure Manning, but the Super Bowl MVP was pressured only occasionally and not at all during a second-quarter drive in which he completed 7 of 7 passes for 57 yards, including a 13-yardeer to Ramses Barden, who beat Tillman to the inside for the TD and a 10-7 Giants lead. Manning wasn't sacked at all in the first half, while completing 17 of 21 passes (80.9 percent) for 148 yards. He turned the offense over to backup David Carr after intermission.
At the other end of the spectrum was Cutler, who completed 7 of 17 passes (41.2 percent) for 72 yards in the first half. Even when Cutler had time, his aim was off. On back-to-back short passes to Matt Forte, he missed low and then behind the running back. Forte was repeatedly stuffed in the first half, struggling for a total of 4 yards on 8 carries.
The Bears' offense finally got back on track after halftime, when their starters were able to mount a drive against Giants backups. But even that was a disappointment.
After Forte busted loose for 24 and 11 yards on back-to-back plays, Cutler found Devin Hester for 19 yards and Marshall for 5, but Earl Bennett dropped a bullet over the middle in the end zone, and the Bears settled for Robbie Gould's 30-yard field goal.
"We were just a little bit off; our communication was lacking," said Cutler, who finished 9 of 21 for 96 yards. "We missed some stuff we should have hit. We left a few plays out there. We need to get the run game going. We just have to execute a little better."
Jason Campbell and the No. 2 offense took over midway through the third quarter, allowing running backs Lorenzo Booker and Armando Allen to audition for the No. 3 spot behind Forte and Michael Bush. That job formerly belonged to Kahlil Bell, who was released Friday after making the trip to New York when he declined to take a $500,000 pay cut from his scheduled $1.26 million salary.
Booker, who had a 105-yard kickoff-return touchdown last week, gave the offense good field position for its first TD with a 43-yard kickoff return. He caught 4 passes for 30 yards and rushed five times for 15 yards. Allen caught 4 passes for 31 yards and added 7 yards on 3 carries.
Campbell completed 12 of 19 passes for 101 yards and the game-winning 12-yard TD pass to Joe Anderson with 8:22 remaining. The win was preserved on rookie Isaiah Frey's late end zone interception on a ball tipped by safety Anthony Walters.