The Bears won't return to Soldier Field until Sept. 7, when the stakes are elevated and a season opener against the Bills awaits. That leaves plenty of time for needed adjustments and polish before the results matter.
But if Thursday's exhibition against the Jaguars was designed to be an encouraging sneak peek of what's in store for coach Marc Trestman's high-powered offense and an overhauled defense, expectations might need to be adjusted.
In front of a flat crowd against a Jaguars team that went 4-12 last year, the Bears experienced more headaches than highlights early on, delivering significant evidence that things remain rough around the edges in all three phases.
Yes, the Bears rallied for a 20-19 win with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the last a 5-yard run by Senorise Perry with 50 seconds left. But the relevance of that late outburst, led by third quarterback Jordan Palmer, is minimal in the big picture.
The first-quarter box score showed a Bears team that did little right. They were outgained 134-8 and didn't appear to wake until after sunset.
Among the laundry list of concerns to surface:
--Eric Weems' kickoff-return fumble at his 20, a giveaway that handed the Jaguars a free field goal.
--A lack of push up front in the running game, with Matt Forte now owning seven preseason carries for minus-7 yards. The Pro Bowl running back's longest run on four carries Thursday was a 1-yarder.
--Inconsistency at linebacker, with the defense allowing Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne to deliver three scoring drives in his four series under center.
--And six first-half penalties -- three each on the offense and defense.
"We'll keep taking steps in the right direction," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "You're never going to know (in the preseason). It's good to get tested against an opponent, but you're never really going to know until Week 1."
On the bright side, Jay Cutler remains sharp and patient as he gears up for the season.
Similar to the exhibition opener against the Eagles, Cutler and the first-unit offense rebounded from a three-and-out opening possession to deliver a lengthy touchdown drive on their next series. Thursday's went 85 yards in 10 plays, ending with Cutler's 4-yard dart to Brandon Marshall.
That touchdown can be credited directly to the offensive line, which gave Cutler nearly 6 seconds to scan and throw while his favorite receiver settled into an opening in the back of the end zone.
Cutler's longest completion came seven snaps earlier on third-and-10 from the Bears 15, another throw in which he waited patiently and eluded pressure. This time he stepped up in the pocket to drill tight end Martellus Bennett over the middle for 25 yards.
"The offensive line gave me a lot of time," Cutler said. "It wasn't our cleanest drive, but we got the job done."
Cutler was 7-for-9 for 75 yards and posted a 138.4 rating, generating positive momentum toward the biggest exhibition test against the Super Bowl champion Seahawks in Seattle. That's a challenge Cutler is eager to take on.
"We're going to get into game-week scenarios and game plan probably a little bit," Cutler said. "Just start to get the flow of what it's going to be like during the season. We'll be in the noise there, so that'll be a good changeup for us."
After Cutler left, Jimmy Clausen's second exhibition appearance wasn't nearly as productive as his first. Clausen oversaw five possessions but took the Bears across midfield only once -- and that second-quarter drive quickly derailed.
An illegal crackback block on Josh Morgan and a hands-to-the-face penalty on Michael Ola pushed the Bears back into a first-and-35 situation, and they eventually punted.
On the first series after halftime, Clausen (11-for-15, 94 yards) threw an interception on a pass intended for Josh Bellamy that was tipped by linebacker Telvin Smith and picked by Josh Evans.
The Bears' second touchdown came midway through the fourth quarter, a 1-yard run by rookie running back Ka'Deem Carey. The fourth-round pick delivered a 15-yard gain earlier on the drive yet finished the night averaging 2.8 yards on his 13 carries -- not exactly convincing productivity in his bid for the No. 2 running back job.
With training camp over, the Bears' next practice will come Monday at Halas Hall, with obvious work needed across the board.
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