Bears' offense improves in preseason win
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The Bears' first-team offense put up 14 points in the first quarter of Thursday night's 33-28 victory over the San Diego Chargers at Soldier Field, but the performance wasn't always pretty.
At least Jay Cutler wasn't intercepted on his first throw of the game, as he was a week earlier.
He was, however, sacked the first two times he dropped back to pass, fumbling the ball the first time, although it was recovered by tight end Martellus Bennett. Cutler was intercepted on the first play of the Bears' third possession.
In between those two disasters, the offense went 84 yards for a touchdown. The big play was Matt Forte's 58-yard scamper to the Chargers' 5-yard line.
On the next play, Cutler went to Brandon Marshall for the score, something the first-team offense failed to do in three possessions last week. Earlier in the drive Marshall, who sat out at Carolina, had a pair of 7-yard receptions.
"We're just trying to get better," coach Marc Trestman said. "We were three-and-out to start the game. We didn't look good. We got our composure; we came back and we got things in order."
On Cutler's interception, he had plenty of time to throw but forced a deep pass intended for Marshall, who was blanketed by double coverage.
That wasted a diving interception by Chris Conte that had given the Bears the ball at the Chargers' 34 one play before they gave it back.
But the offense bounced back again thanks to a short field provided by Shea McClellin's sack and strip of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. The loose ball was recovered for the Bears by safety Major Wright.
Cutler started the 35-yard TD drive by rolling right and finding Marshall for 19 yards over the middle. Three runs by Forte, the last for 3 yards, gave the Bears a 14-0 lead with 18 seconds left in the first quarter.
The touchdown run came over the right side, where rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills started at guard and tackle, respectively, moving up from second team in the preseason opener.
The Bears still are juggling the O-line trying to find the best five, and Trestman said it was too soon to evaluate the play of the rookies.
"Not (a) good enough (vantage point) to really see," he said. "I thought it was good, but to be specific from this point of view would be a little bit premature."
Cutler completed 4 of 5 passes for 38 yards and left with a 98.3 passer rating. Forte's 8 carries netted 74 yards, and Marshall had 4 receptions for 38 yards.
Much like last year, all 5 of Cutler's passes targeted Marshall, who set franchise records in 2012 with 118 receptions and 1,508 yards.
But it was the Bears' first-team defense that made the stronger statement Thursday, allowing just 72 yards on four possessions before giving way to backups.
Seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers sat for the second week in a row (coach's decision). So Corey Wootton and McClellin, who are battling for the starting job at left end across from Peppers, stepped up.
Wootton had the Bears' first of 3 sacks of Rivers and had 3 first-half tackles. McClellin had a team-high 4 tackles in the first half, and his blindside sack came on the next possession after Wootton's sack.
In the second quarter, defensive tackle Nate Collins picked up his second sack in as many games, and Corey Irvin recovered Charlie Whitehurst's fumbled snap, setting up Robbie Gould's 25-yard field goal.
Special teams played a huge role for the Bears. Undrafted rookie running back Michael Ford, fighting for a roster spot, took a kickoff four yards deep in the end zone and raced 100 yards before he was tracked down at the Chargers' 4.
That set up Michael Bush's 3-yard TD run that gave the Bears a 27-14 lead with 11:16 left in the third quarter. In the second quarter Blake Costanzo's recovery of a muffed punt set up Gould's 23-yard field goal.
"The defense is playing exceptionally well, relative to causing turnovers," Trestman said. "Special teams has been very, very good so far. We're not going to get too far ahead of ourselves. We've got things to build on."
Follow Bob's NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere, and check out his Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com/sports.
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