There was some good, some bad, and some ugly in the Bears’ 31-3 loss to the Broncos Thursday night. Without four of their best players, the Bears exhibited more of the latter.
Bears fans finally got their first glimpse of new wide receiver Brandon Marshall in game action, but two of his running mates — quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte — both sat out the game. That left newcomers Jason Campbell and Michael Bush to take their place and the makeshift offense failed to move the ball in its short body of work.
Defensively, Brian Urlacher obviously did not play while dealing with knee soreness and the team held Julius Peppers out of the game for precautionary reasons. Due to the importance of the position and the lack of depth behind him, Peppers is arguably the most important commodity the Bears have this year, and they did not want to risk his health on rainy night in Chicago. Without their two leaders, the defense was gashed by Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense on the opening drive of the game, playing bend-but-don’t-break defense in a drive that featured a converted third-and-17.
On the offense’s opening drive, Bush fumbled a pitch from Campbell which the Broncos recovered and returned to the 6-yard-line. It appeared Bush took his eyes off the ball and was looking to make his move before securing it. The Broncos converted that turnover into three points, but their stalled drive was one of the more lively moments of the game. Former Bear Caleb Hanie made his first appearance and was booed before each of his three snaps on that drive. He was cheered after each of his incomplete passes, though. Bears fans clearly have not forgotten how he managed to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” so to speak, when he failed miserably to hold down the fort last season after Cutler’s injury while leading a playoff-destined 7-3 team to obscurity.
Hanie did lead the Broncos on a touchdown drive in the middle of the second quarter to give Denver a 10-0 lead while the Bears reserves continued to struggle moving the ball. The starting offensive line played into the second quarter to get more work but failed to display any signs of cohesion.
Halftime is where Bears fans should stop analyzing the results of the game. Most of the second half featured players without any future whatsoever. Camp bodies, if you will, who were just trying to close out the game and bridge the gap between the third-stringers and the next preseason game. If you listen to the broadcasters, they’ll tell you these players were using that time to showcase their skills for other potential teams in the league but very few of these reserves ever earn a chance with another club. They were playing simply because a football game has to run 60 minutes.
It goes without saying that the Bears have a long way to go, but there were some encouraging signs. Most notably was the play of the Bears first two draft picks.
Defensive end Shea McClellin played much of the middle of the game and was active throughout. While he had his moments of struggle — including getting pancaked at the goal line on a Broncos touchdown run — he generally showed why the Bears had interest in him with his active motor and closing speed. He chased down Hanie out of the pocket to pick up his first sack as a pro.
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was a focal point of the offense when he was on the field and hooked up with third-string quarterback Josh McCown on a number of plays. He showed those soft hands that coaches have raved about and his big frame was put to use as he shielded defenders away from the ball and gained separation on a number of routes. He finished with four catches for 35 yards to lead the Bears.
-McClellin picked up a roughing the passer penalty on a Nate Collins sack as the first half expired. The penalty was for contact to the head, and it allowed the Broncos a chance at a long field goal, which they missed. I don’t have a problem with that penalty. McClellin was being aggressive, playing until the whistle, and finishing a tackle. The fact that his helmet hit the quarterback’s was simple bad timing as Collins was twisting Hanie to the ground.
-Safety Major Wright picked off Manning on the opening drive of the game after nickelback D.J. Moore deflected the pass. In a rather unsurprising announcement shortly thereafter, Wright was ruled out for the remainder of the game with a hamstring injury. Some things never change with Wright’s injury history, and we could see significant action from rookie Brandon Hardin before long. Craig Steltz would figure to get the first look, though.
-Starting left tackle J’Marcus Webb saw extended action as he played into the fourth quarter. It’s clear that offensive coordinator Mike Tice was sending him a message by leaving him in that long, essentially telling the player that he needs to get to work and get better.
-The Bears had just 8 first downs, compared to the Broncos’ 25, and none by the starters.
-One-time Bears cornerback Joshua Moore intercepted fourth-string quarterback Matt Blanchard in the fourth quarter, putting a damper on an otherwise nice performance by the undrafted rookie quarterback.
-Receiver Dane Sanzenbacher saw time on special teams as he looks for ways to contribute to the team in order to make the roster. He had one punt return for four yards and also had two receptions for 15 yards.
-The Bears had the opportunity to return just two kickoffs because Denver kicker Matt Prater kept putting the ball through the end zone. Apparently the Broncos didn’t care to evaluate their kickoff coverage.
-A few defensive linemen besides McClellin showed some activity in the backfield. Defensive end Cheta Ozougwu, Mr. Irrelevant of the 2011 draft, showed some flashes of pass rushing ability that he’s been doing throughout camp and recorded one of the Bears’ three sacks on the night. Defensive tackles Nate Collins and Brian Price also showed good penetration into the backfield with Collins recording a sack and Price assisting on two tackles.
-The Bears will welcome Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins next Saturday at Soldier Field.