NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Despite falling 14-13 to the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night, the Bears saw encouraging signs in a couple areas that should give them some optimism headed into next week's exhibition finale.
The offensive line put together its second consecutive solid outing, and the defense atoned for last week's uncharacteristically sloppy game against the New York Giants.
Let's take a closer look:
What it means: Although the starting offense and defense performed well, there's still room to improve before the Sept. 11 opener against the Atlanta Falcons.
The offensive line showed it could put together back-to-back games of consistent protection, and held the Tennessee Titans without a sack through a little more than two quarters of action. By putting together another strong performance, the offensive line has allowed Jay Cutler to suffer only one sack in the last two outings; a trend that needs to continue for the offense to flourish in Year 2 of Mike Martz's system.
"Well, we got better again," Cutler said. "We left some points out there, you hate to see that but our offensive line played better, the receivers played better and Matt (Forte) ran the ball. So, we’re getting there. We’re not quite ready for the opener but we’re getting there.”
Defensively, the starting unit limited the Titans to 3-of-8 on third-down conversions, but gave up a touchdown at the end of a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive in the second quarter.
Bears coach Lovie Smith expressed mixed emotions in critiquing Saturday night's performance, saying he was pleased with the offense's production, but disappointed in its point production. The starting offense converted 5 of 7 on third down in the first half.
"[I was pleased with] the way we moved the ball offensively, but we've got to get points," Smith said. "We were moving the ball. We just have to get points. Defensively, we played good except for the one drive."
Offense shakes tough start: The Bears overcame a shaky start to put together impressive first-half numbers against the Titans.
After tossing an interception on just his second attempt of the night (which didn't appear to be his fault), Cutler settled in to complete 13 of 20 in the first half for 170 yards, while running back Matt Forte averaged 4.5 yards per carry in gaining 67 yards through the first two quarters.
The offensive line made possible perhaps the most important statistic of the night for the unit: no sacks. The Bears entered Saturday's game with cautious optimism after the offensive line limited the New York Giants to only one sack last Monday, but the front five held up once again against the Titans.
With plenty of time to throw in the first quarter, Cutler led the Bears to a 5-for-5 third-down conversion rate in the opening quarter as the offense finished the half converting 71 percent (5 of 7) on third down.
Cutler, meanwhile, finished the game hitting 13 of 21 for 171 yards.
Another Hanie INT: Caleb Hanie's struggles with interceptions at practice continued to carry into live action.
Hanie threw an INT returned for a touchdown at the end of the third quarter, which ruined a 15-play drive spanning 73 yards that had also taken 6 minutes and 47 seconds off the clock. Hanie had also thrown an interception on Monday night against the New York Giants, before finishing that game with a 62.5 passer rating.
Hanie has fought through INT issues throughout training camp, and lost some of his second-team repetitions to rookie Nate Enderle after a shaky showing the preseason opener.
It appears the INT on Saturday night came as a result of a communication gaffe between Hanie and Sanzenbacher.
Injury watch: Running back Marion Barber came out of the game in the opening quarter with left calf strain, and tight end Dez Clark suffered a left knee injury in the fourth quarter. The extent of Clark's injury wasn't immediately known.
What's next: The Bears close out the preseason Thursday night at Soldier Field against the Cleveland Browns. Look for a good portion of the starters and major contributors to sit out the preseason finale as several such as linebacker Lance Briggs (knee), tight end Kellen Davis (back),and defensive tackle Anthony Adams (calf), are nursing injuries along with receiver Sam Hurd, and running back Marion Barber (calf).