Bears-Titans recap: Improvement on both sides of the ball

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Following the Bears’ blowout loss to the Giants Monday night, the Bears were looking for a much better effort against the Titans Saturday night and that’s exactly what they got in their 14-13 loss to Tennessee.

The offense came out firing on the first series and Roy Williams caught his first pass as a Bears receiver for a 17-yard gain on the first play. Unfortunately, on the next play, Jay Cutler targeted Williams again and the ball went through the receiver’s hands and was intercepted. There was a bit of contact on the play, but not enough to be ruled interference.

After a Titans missed field goal, the Bears offense continued firing on all cylinders and produced a 12-play, 51-yard drive taking 5:46 off the clock. The drive included three third-down conversions and concluded with a three-yard touchdown run by Matt Forte.

Forte finally had his breakout game, if that’s even an appropriate term to use for a preseason game. He rushed for 74 yards and a score on 17 carries, more rushing attempts than he had all of last preseason.

When the Bears got the ball back midway through the first quarter, they once again proceeded to move the ball downfield with a succession of third-down conversions and six total first down plays. Marion Barber caught a pass for 8 yards and also picked up one of the first downs with a two-yard gain on third and one. Barber’s night ended prematurely on that drive as he suffered a calf injury. The Bears could not score on that drive as Robbie Gould missed yet another field goal this preseason, sending his 29-yard attempt off the left upright.

Fortunately, Gould got a second chance on the Bears’ third drive as he drilled a 45-yard field goal to give the Bears a 10-0 lead. Cutler connected with Johnny Knox for 21 yards and Earl Bennett for 20 yards on consecutive plays that drive.

With less than a minute to go in the first half, the Bears had the opportunity to run their two-minute offense to try to get into field goal range but the team lacked any sense of regular-season urgency and was a fraction of a second tardy in calling a timeout before time expired. The hurry-up offense was mismanaged, but it’s just a preseason game. I feel they could have — and would have — got up to the line of scrimmage quicker had the game been meaningful.

The Bears’ offense had one final chance to do something with its first possession of the second half but it went three and out and the first stringers were done for the night.

The first-string defense also had a more successful night than they did against the Giants, but the level of competition was also clearly worse. Matt Hasselbeck misfired on several throws — one of which could have been a touchdown as D.J. Moore was beat down the sideline — and the Titans receivers had a bad case of the drops early.

The Titans went three and out on their first two drives. The Bears’ run defense looked to be gaining confidence as Israel Idonije and Brian Urlacher had good penetration to disrupt one run play in the backfield and Matt Toeaina and Henry Melton cleaned it up. Idonije later initiated another stop in the backfield as well.

Tennessee sustained a long drive on its third possession, though, driving 51 yards to the Bears’ 29-yard line. Rather than attempt the field goal on fourth down, the Titans went for it and Charles Tillman made a great play positioning himself inside the receiver to knock Hasselbeck’s pass away.

Unfortunately, the Titans switched things up on their next possession and the Bears had trouble adjusting. Running a little bit of a hurry-up, the Titans drove 80 yards on 10 plays in 4:51 and scored on a 9-yard run by Jamie Harper.

The starting defense had one series in the third quarter and gave up two first downs — both passes to Zack Bowman’s side of the field — before clamping down and forcing the Titans to punt.

The special teams continues to be a work in progress. Gould’s missed field goal early in the second quarter was his fourth miss this preseason. Johnny Knox also fumbled on a kickoff return, which he alertly batted out of bounds to maintain possession. Early in the first quarter, the kickoff team allowed Marc Mariani to return a kickoff 37 yards to set up the TItans with good field position. Although discouraging, there’s still time for the special teams to shore things up by opening day.

I’ll have more thoughts and observations to come.

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