Running game a bright spot in Bears’ preseason loss
The Bears still made silly mistakes. Still struggled to score points. Still lost.
But they also showed progress in fixing one of their biggest problems Thursday night, when they lost their preseason opener 24-20 to Kansas City.
Chicago trailed 14-3 at the half and made a wide variety of mistakes: The ball flew out of Kyle Orton’s hands for a fumble on a scramble; Rex Orton fell down dropping back to pass; illegal blocking penalties were called on two of the Chiefs’ three punts to Devin Hester; and a diving Danieal Manning dragged a Brad Maynard punt that had died at the 1 into the end zone for a touchback.
But the Bears also ran for 175 yards behind an offensive line missing No. 1 draft pick Chris Williams (herniated disc in his lower back) and guard Terrence Metcalf (knee). Both had minor operations this week.
That was more yards than Chicago ran for in any regular season game last year, when the Bears topped 100 yards only four times and averaged 3.1 yards per carry, their worst in 37 years.
“There weren’t a lot of bright spots, but that was definitely the case,” coach Lovie Smith said. “When we say we get off the bus running the ball, we need to be able to run it, so all was not lost tonight.”
Backup quarterback Damon Huard threw an 8-yard TD pass with 11 seconds left in the half, and third-stringer Tyler Thigpen threw a 27-yard scoring pass with 1:08 left in the game to give K.C. the win. But what hurt Chicago most was a game-opening 16-play, 81-yard drive led by Brodie Croyle, where the Chiefs converted five consecutive third downs – including a third-and-10 and third-and-15 – against a defense that ranked No. 2 on third down last year.
“Our defense cannot allow that to happen,” Smith said. “We had them in third-and-long situations and we let them out. But that won’t happen to us a lot. We are better than that.”
Chicago is hoping its quarterbacks are better this year, too. Both Orton (7-for-10 for 56 yards) and Rex Grossman (4-for-8 for 44 yards) played it safe, with undrafted rookie Caleb Hanie (9-for-16 for 101 yards) providing most of the passing yards, including a 25-yard TD pass to Brandon Rideau.
Yet Orton called it a “solid start.”
“We did some good things on offense,” he said. “We just weren’t getting any points out of it.”
Mostly, the Bears ran it well. Rookie Matt Forte gained only 25 yards on seven carries, but he gained at least 2 yards on every rush.
“He did a good job when there was not a whole lot there,” Orton said. “That’s big in this offense, not living in second-and-9. We run a power offense where sometimes the holes aren’t going to be there.”
Third-stringer Garrett Wolfe had a big second half, running for 64 yards on seven carries and turning a dump-off pass over the middle from Grossman into a 25-yard touchdown.
“Every running back that was out there had a good day,” Wolfe said. “I just wanted to do the same when I got my opportunity.”
If the Bears’ runners and blockers continue to play like that, whoever plays quarterback will have a better chance to shine.
"I'm real encouraged," Grossman said. "I know it's just one preseason game, but I didn't get touched."
"We know," Orton said, "that we have to run the ball, manage the clock and hang on to the football. That’s going to be a big part of whoever the quarterback is.”
Assistant sports editor Matt Trowbridge can be reached at: 815-987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.