CHICAGO – Unfortunately for pro football fans, exhibition games are meant to be suffered as much as they’re designed to be watched or enjoyed, and the Bears’ 2014 debut, a 34-28 win against the Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field, was no exception.
In a first quarter that threatened to run past Labor Day and stretch on to Thanksgiving, there seemed at times to be more yellow laundry on the field than grass.
Such is the rhythm of these passion plays that most often are short on both passion and play.
Finding the football often hidden in the farce, there was more good on the evening for the Bears than bad.
The defense that was so disastrous in 2013 picked off Eagles quarterback Nick Foles twice in his three possessions; matching the number of interceptions he threw in the entire 2013 season.
Ryan Mundy and Sherrick McManis were the thieves, sandwiching their picks around the Eagles’ second possession in which they ran six plays for minus 16 yards, with the first three waived off because of penalties.
Mundy suggested Foles may have helped him a bit on his interception.
“In the opening game, the offenses keep it pretty basic,” Mundy said. “The quarterback’s not looking off too much. So that’s an opportunity for us to work on our vision on the quarterback and get a good break.”
The starters on offense were three and out the first time they took the field, but drove 69 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown in their second possession before taking the night off.
The Bears were unable to run the ball most of the evening, but Jay Cutler was sharp on the touchdown drive, going 8 of 11 for 83 yards and spreading the ball around with four completions to Brandon Marshall, two to Dante Rosario, one to Alshon Jeffery and the touchdown to tight end Zach Miller on a 10-yard toss.
Miller had himself a night, grabbing a second first-half touchdown on a 12-yard toss from Jordan Palmer and grabbing six passes for 68 yards in the first half, making it unlikely the suspended Martellus Bennett enjoyed this one from his family room sofa.
Cutler had some kind words for his newest target.
“He’s had a good camp,” Cutler said. “We just want to get him in games and see how he can do. Every time he’s had an opportunity, he’s made a play. He has been a nice addition for the offense and we’re excited to use him more.”
Predictably, coach Marc Trestman deferred comment on the play of his reserves before the obligatory study of the tape, but there was little to get excited about.
Jon Bostic followed a strong early training camp with a disappointing performance, and prized rookies Ego Freguson, Will Sutton and Ka’Deem Carey were all for the most part invisible.
The biggest spark off the bench came from wideout Chis Williams halfway through the third quarter on a 73-yard catch and run for a touchdown from Jimmy Clausen on which Williams showed the explosion and speed Trestman and Phil Emery are hoping for.
Special teams have been a concern throughout the offseason and provided the only real downer on the evening. Robbie Gould had his first field goal attempt blocked, the kick coverage team allowed Eagles rookie Josh Huff to return a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown. Neither Patrick O’Donnell nor Tress Way were impressive, the punt coverage team was flagged for an illegal formation on one punt and illegal touching on another, and Micheal Spurlock muffed a punt, turning the ball over near midfield.
By the time the evening finally ended, we knew little more than we suspected when it began. The Bears’ 22 starters appear capable of playing with at least 24 to 28 of the other teams in the league. But it will be at least another week if not longer before we know what if anything they have in reserve.
• Hub Arkush is editor of Chicago Football. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.