Last night the Bears emerged from the tunnel in New England fired up to play a football game. They jumped out to an 11-0 first quarter lead, then began rotating in their reserves. New England‘s starting offense took advantage, coming back to take a 17-11 advantage at the half. The Patriots stretched that lead to 23-14 before a wild finish by the Bears’ offense left them one point short, 23-22 as time ran out.
Even though the result was the same as last week, dropping the Bears to 0-2 on the preseason, there were a lot more positives to be taken away from this game against the team that lost to Denver in last season’s AFC Championship Game.
After practicing against the Patriots on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week the Bears looked more like a team than the disorganized squad that got shut out by the Broncos. They looked even better when you consider that Bill Belichick played his first-string into the third quarter against the Bears’ twos and threes. Here’s the breakdown of what was good and what didn’t work against the Patriots.
The line play was a mixed bag, but at least that gave the team more to carry home than last week.
Jay Cutler had time to drop back and pick his targets. He took advantage on the second play of the game with a 29 yard completion to Alshon Jeffery. Cutler also completed his following four throws before a batted pass incompletion stalled the drive on the Patriots’ 18.
Ted Larson looked more comfortable as a center and had plays where he provided excellent push while Charles Leno held up well at left tackle. When Cutler was forced to move he had clear spaces to roll into.
The empty half of the bag consisted of Larson also spending time looking like a statue after the snap. He was also called for a holding penalty on the first drive.
Also on the first drive, two of Cutler’s passes were tipped at the line and a third was batted down by Anthony Johnson to bring kicker Robbie Gould onto the field.
On the sack, rookie guard Cody Whitehair was caught off balance and was thrown to the side. Right tackle Bobbie Massie provided a big block on Jeremy Langford’s 5 yard touchdown run but struggled in pass protection.
The Bears’ offensive line made big improvements in the space of one week but there’s a long ways to go, especially when you look beyond the starting five.
Jeremy Langford started and ran hard. He finished his night with 55 yards on eight carries to put himself in front of the pack competing to be the Week One starter.
Rookie Jordan Howard received the bulk of his playing time in the fourth quarter and showed why the Bears thought they got a steal when they grabbed him in the fifth round of the draft. He pushed and churned his way to 46 hard-fought yards on 11 carries.
At fullback, rookie football but veteran rugby player Paul Lasike carried once on a bruising four yard run. He also did a great job as a lead blocker for Howard. He’s currently making a convincing argument that a fullback might be a solid addition to the roster this season.
On the second play of the game Jeffery went up against Justin Coleman and brought down a pass thrown by Cutler where he alone could get his hands on it. On the next play Jeffery pulled in a 12 yard completion. That’s all he needed to show to prove he’s ready to go.
Kevin White has the physical skills to be a Pro Bowl caliber receiver but needs to cut down the mental mistakes.
White showed good awareness of where the first down sticks were located on the Bears’ first drive when he cut back to snare a six yard pass for a first down. He gave that back three plays later when he was caught for an illegal formation penalty. On the second drive White dropped a catchable ball along the sidelines.
Josh Bellamy made two catches for 50 yards and is also making his presence felt on coverage teams. That’s what will secure his spot on the final 53 man roster.
Finally, the fine line between surviving the final cut and going home early was demonstrated when, on the Bears’ final drive, Kieren Duncan dropped an easily catchable ball while trying to keep his feet inbounds.
On the second to last play of the game, B.J. Daniels hauled in a Connor Shaw pass for a touchdown while being bracketed by two defenders. Daniels earned a chance to play in the final preseason game against the Cleveland Browns. Duncan will watch that game at home.
Tony Moeaki looks to be Cutler’s new check-down option now that Matt Forte has moved on. He was targeted by Cutler seven times on the first two drives and caught four for 28 yards.
Rob Housler also stood out as a pass catcher at the position. He caught Cutler’s first quarter two point conversion pass while blocking out heavy traffic. In the fourth he grabbed a short pass from Brian Hoyer and sped 52 yards to give the Bears a first down on the New England six.
With Zach Miller struggling with concussion issues Housler has the potential to step in for him to be the seam splitting tight end the Bears will need.
The Bears struggled with stopping LeGarrette Blount but that’s something a lot of NFL teams struggle with.
Leonard Floyd showed why he’s going to be a frustrating player to watch this season. More than once he was easily moved backwards away from the play without being able to disengage. On the plus side, in the third quarter he curled inside around Jonathan Bullard, who was posting up against the tackle. Floyd and Bullard met at the quarterback to share their first NFL sack.
Keith Browner continued to make a strong case for himself making this team. His No. 76 loomed large on the goal line to keep the Patriots out of the end zone on their third drive then stuffed Blount to kill a two point conversion attempt after New England’s first touchdown.
The only standout play by the Bears secondary came on the Patriots’ second possession. The drove to the Bears’ seven before running back Brandon Bolden had the ball stripped from his grasp by cornerback Terry Porter, seeing his first action of the preseason. Porter also recovered the fumble to end the threat.
Otherwise the Bears’ young secondary struggled in coverage. They’re still at a point where they spend more time reading than reacting. That hopefully will improve as the preseason stretches on.
In the final analysis, the fact that the Bears lost means nothing. The fact that they had more individuals stepping up to make plays is encouraging.
Next week, in a rare Saturday afternoon start, the Bears will play their third preseason game at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. There will be a game plan and the starters will play into the third quarter. That game will be the measuring stick for how strong this team will be to start the season.