Bears' offense more hurtful than helpful

So much for the Bears' offense carrying the defense.

Given that opportunity in Sunday's season opener against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field, the Bears' offense dropped the ball and also threw it away — twice.

The result was a depressing 23-20 overtime loss.

Rather than help a rebuilt defense that clearly is a work in progress, the 3 turnovers by the high-powered but mistake-prone Bears offense made it tougher.

There still are sky-high expectations for an offense loaded with star power. But the upset loss at home to an opponent that won six games last year may already have dialed down playoff aspirations. Six of the Bears' next eight games are on the road, including trips to face 2013 playoff teams in San Francisco, Carolina, New England and Green Bay.

It will be an uphill battle to remain in playoff contention until the schedule turns in the Bears' favor with five home games in the final seven weeks.

The offense alternated between potent and careless against the Bills. It was able to overcome a strong dose of adversity, losing two offensive-line starters (left guard Matt Slauson and center Roberto Garza) within minutes of each other in the second quarter.

Pro Bowl wide receiver Alshon Jeffery suffered a hamstring injury early in the third quarter and didn't return. Five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall and No. 3 wide receiver Josh Morgan were temporarily sidelined by minor leg injuries but played on.

The loss of Jeffery was the one that hurt the most, especially on the Bears' only overtime possession. But it was the offense's own mistakes that doomed Marc Trestman's team. Their turnovers were turned into 13 points by the Bills.

“Alshon (being unavailable) down the stretch hurt us a little bit with some 1-on-1 matchups,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “The offensive line did a great job. Mike (Ola, at left guard) and Brian (de la Puente, at center) stepped in and played really well.”

The Bears had 427 yards of total offense, including 341 through the air, and Cutler completed 34 of 49 passes with 2 TDs. But he also was picked off twice, finishing with a 86.2 passer rating.

“We rolled up a lot of yards,” Cutler said, “but turnovers and penalties, those things will kill you.”

The turnovers resulted in a minus-2 differential, spoiling an otherwise beautiful day on the lakefront.

Marshall lost a fumble early in the second quarter that gave the Bills the ball at the Bears' 46 and resulted in Dan Carpenter's 50-yard field goal and a 10-7 Buffalo lead.

On the next possession Cutler threw the first of his 2 interceptions on a deep seam route on which tight end Martellus Bennett never turned around. Ex-Bear Corey Graham brought the interception back 45 yards to the Bears' 7. One play later it was 17-7.

“I should have turned around quicker on that,” Bennett said. “That first one was my fault.”

After the break, Cutler and the offense heated up, and Robbie Gould's 41-yard field goal and Cutler's 11-yard TD toss to Marshall tied it up at 17-17.

The offense was rolling again midway through the fourth quarter in Buffalo territory when Cutler rolled right, threw late across his body toward the middle of the field looking for Bennett again, but instead finding the Bills' 303-pound tackle Kyle Williams.

“I was just trying to get it inside to Marty,” Cutler said. “Third-and-1 there, I should have just thrown it away.”

The Bills turned that into a field goal and a 20-17 lead. But a late Bears drive and Gould's 37-yard field goal with 35 seconds remaining set up overtime.

The Bears got the ball first in the extra session but punted after gaining 16 yards on four plays. Fred Jackson's 38-yard run set up Carpenter's 27-yard game-winning kick.

That burst by Jackson highlighted the deficiencies on a Bears defense that was supposed to be an upgrade over last year's unit, which was the NFL's worst against the run.

But there wasn't much evidence of improvement on this day.

The Bills pounded out 193 yards on the ground, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. If those numbers seem familiar, it's because last year's defense was gashed for an average of 208 rushing yards in the final seven games.

“We didn't play disciplined football for four quarters, and it hurt us,” said defensive end Lamarr Houston, the former Oakland Raider whose arrival was supposed to help shore up the run defense.

“We were in good position to get them stopped, but we lacked in the discipline area. We have to do our jobs and know our jobs.

“(Now) it's about going to work and doing your job. A loss is a loss, but we've got to get better.”

Anyone who thought the Bears already were better than last year's 8-8, non-playoff team came away disappointed.

• Follow Bob's Bears and NFL reports on Twitter@BobLeGere.

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  Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall is tripped up by Buffalo Bills defensive back Nickell Robey at Soldier Field on Sunday. George LeClaire/
  Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams intercepts the ball intended for Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall during the Bears season opener at home in Soldier Field. Mark Black/
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