CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears made their supposedly vanilla preseason offense burst with flavor Saturday, as Chicago ended up winning the preseason contest 33-31 in spite of a furious fourth-quarter comeback by the Washington Redskins.
The club’s showing gave credence to new coordinator Mike Tice’s offseason proclamation that the Bears would indeed field an explosive offense in 2012. On Chicago’s first play from scrimmage, quarterback Jay Cutler -- making his preseason debut after sitting out last week’s game -- hit Brandon Marshall for a 41-yard gain.
Four of Cutler’s first five completions gained 16 yards or more, and he finished the game with 122 yards on 7-of-13 passing. What’s more is Cutler -- despite playing behind an oft-maligned offensive line – wasn’t sacked once.
“It’s fun to get back out there,” Cutler said. “Last game it was tough to have to only watch. We had a good week of practice. I thought there was a lot more intensity and a bigger sense of urgency from the guys. We threw the first one to B (Marshall) and we started rolling a little bit.”
So much, the Bears eventually took a 13-5 advantage in first downs in the opening half, in addition to converting 50 percent of third downs while racking up 262 yards to Washington’s 101.
“We have a lot of guys who can play football,” Cutler said. “You bring in the second-team running back (Michael Bush) and he’s making plays in the hole and scoring touchdowns. We have rookie wide receivers out here playing, and we have regular guys. So we have some guys who can play. The offensive line knows it starts with them, and if they play well, we’ll take care of the rest.”
Let’s take a closer look at what took place.
What it means: It’s the preseason, so nothing, really. The most important thing to take from this is that the offense put together an all-around performance it can build on, and the defense alleviated at least some concern about the future availability of linebacker Brian Urlacher with a strong game against Robert Griffin III.
The defense sacked Griffin three times, and limited him to 49 yards passing and a rating of 79.9. The defense also forced a fumble that the offense converted into a touchdown.
H-i-t RGIII: Despite Griffin’s fleet feet, Chicago’s first-team defense kept him under constant pressure throughout the night, sacking him three times.
Israel Idonije sacked Griffin late in the first quarter and knocked the ball loose with Julius Peppers recovering the fumble on the Washington 8. The turnover led to Bush’s second touchdown run of the quarter.
“Since we have all that on offense, we have to get them the ball back,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “We got good pressure on the quarterback. That takeaway, of course, was big.”
For Idonije, he definitely felt like the defense improved.
“We did some things [right] and we did some things that we’ve got to work on,” Idonije said. “We had some opportunities to really put them in tough some spots and we let them get away. We played tough. The intensity was definitely better.”
How to make final 53: By busting the opening kickoff of the second half with a 105-yard touchdown return. That’s what veteran running back Lorenzo Booker did against the Redskins, eluding six tacklers early in the return before outrunning the rest of the coverage team to the end zone.
Booker appeared to be a long shot to make the roster because of the depth already at the position with Matt Forte, Bush, Kahlil Bell and Armando Allen in the fold. But Booker’s return skills might give him a leg up on Bell and Allen.
Booker is on his fourth team in five years, after previous stops at Miami, Philadelphia and Minnesota. By making plays such as that 105-yard return, Booker has a legitimate shot to stick.
How not to make final 53: By giving up a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown. That’s what took place late in the second quarter when Brandon Banks broke through Chicago’s coverage unit for a score.
For on-the-bubble players, special teams are the place to make their mark. In fact, special teams coach Dave Toub has pointed out several players (including some of the team’s late-round draft picks) whose NFL future depends almost solely on how they perform in the third phase of the game. Allowing a punt return for a touchdown isn’t the way to make the 53-man roster; especially on a team that consistently ranks among the league’s best on special teams.
“We didn’t like what we saw there, but you want to put guys in situations to see if they can make plays,” Smith said. “We’re finding out things about our team.”
A clutch kick: The Bears squandered a 20-point fourth quarter lead, but Robbie Gould's 57-yard field goal in the game's final minute gave the Bears the win. Gould was 4-for-4 on field goals on Saturday.
Hardin left the field on a cart and stretcher after suffering a neck injury early in the third quarter. Making a tackle on Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen at the end of a 19-yard completion, Hardin appeared to lead with his head during the play, which likely caused the injury.
Trainers immobilized Hardin’s neck and took him off the field on a cart and stretcher.
Conte, meanwhile, crashed to the turf with what appeared to be a shoulder injury after making a tackle on Redskins running back Evan Royster approximately midway through the second quarter, and never returned to action.
Punter Adam Podlesh suffered a hip injury during Banks’ 91-yard touchdown return in the second quarter. Chasing Banks, Podlesh started limping near the Bears’ sideline as the return man closed in on the end zone. He left the field immediately, and the team announced he was doubtful to return.
The extent of the various injuries weren’t immediately disclosed.
What’s next: The Bears return to their normal digs at Halas Hall to continue preparation for Friday’s game on the road against the New York Giants. The third exhibition game for teams is typically the one in which starters receive the most action, as it’s considered final prep for the regular season because teams rest their key players in the last preseason outing. The team will also treat the week of preparation for the Giants very similar to that of a real game week.