CHICAGO – This new and supposedly improved offense is producing some awfully familiar results for the Bears.
Quarterback Jay Cutler looked shaky again and the defense made up for it, harassing Philip Rivers early on and setting the tone for the Bears in a 33-28 victory over the San Diego Chargers in a preseason game Thursday night.
All eyes remain on the quarterback after the Bears made some big changes on offense in the offseason, hiring coach Marc Trestman to replace Lovie Smith and revising their line.
So far, the results are mixed at best.
Cutler played a quarter and completed 4-of-5 passes for 38 yards and a touchdown, but the only receiver he targeted was Brandon Marshall. That’s not a good sign for the Bears, considering they want to distribute the ball more evenly this year. Nor was Cutler getting intercepted trying to hit Marshall in double coverage.
On a more positive note for the Bears’ offense, Matt Forte ran for 74 yards and a touchdown on eight attempts after carrying only once in a loss at Carolina in the preseason opener.
His 58-yard run around the left end set up the game’s first touchdown, a 5-yard strike from Cutler to Marshall.
Devin Hester also showed a spark, returning the game’s opening kickoff 45 yards. And reserve Michael Ford ran one back 100 yards in the third quarter, leading to a 3-yard scoring run by Michael Bush.
The first-team defense sacked Rivers three times and forced two turnovers, even though star defensive end Julius Peppers (hamstring), defensive tackle Henry Melton (concussion) and linebacker D.J. Williams (strained right calf) sat out with injuries.
Rivers got swarmed as soon as he stepped on the field, and the Chargers fell again after getting pounded by Seattle last week. He was 5 of 9 for 50 yards with an interception, and he lost a fumble on a sack by Shea McClellin, leading to a 3-yard run by Forte that made it 14-0 near the end of the first quarter.
Backup Charlie Whitehurst came in early in the second quarter and was 6 for 9 for 69 yards and a touchdown. He fumbled away his first snap, leading to a field goal by Robbie Gould, but he also led the Chargers on an 80-yard TD drive late in the half.
Cutler got sacked twice on the opening drive, an ominous start after he threw an interception on Chicago’s first play from scrimmage the previous week.
Jarret Johnson burst through the left side to force a fumble on second down that the Bears recovered, and Cutler held the ball too long on the next play, resulting in a sack for Corey Liuget.
Forte set up Chicago’s first touchdown on the next possession when he turned a pitch into a 58-yard sprint down the left side to the 5. Marshall, who sat out last week after having offseason hip surgery, then caught a strike from Cutler in tight coverage to give the Bears a 7-0 lead.
They had a chance to add to it after Chris Conte picked off Rivers at the 35 on the next possession. But on the first play, Cutler got intercepted by Donald Butler trying to hit Marshall in double coverage.
The Chargers were driving near midfield when McClellin sacked Rivers from the blind side and forced a fumble that Major Wright recovered. The Bears took over on the San Diego 35, and Forte ran it in from the 3, making it 14-0 with 18 seconds left in the quarter.
Both teams were missing some key players, although Peppers’ absence was a bit of a surprise.
Trestman said this week that the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end would play after sitting out against Carolina, but he was not in uniform.
The Chargers held out Danny Woodhead because of his undisclosed injury and receiver Malcolm Floyd after he hurt his right knee in practice on Monday. Rookie linebacker Manti Te’o also sat out as expected after spraining his right foot against Seattle last week.
Liuget left late in the first quarter with a shoulder injury. And Bears third-string quarterback Matt Blanchard injured his left hand in the second half, forcing Josh McCown back into the game.