- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Aside from the fact that Robbie Gould is in midseason form, we are left with only so many concrete conclusions to draw after three games of preseason football.
But if the third game is truly the most accurate indicator we have of how the regular season might look, Bears fans would be well-advised not to get too comfortable just yet.
Jay Cutler calls it cleaning up, as in, "We're heading in the right direction. We just need to clean up a few things."
And it sounds reasonable enough to expect that the numerous miscues by the Bears quarterback in an uneven 20-17 victory over the Giants on Friday night will be corrected. That their third-down conversion rate will improve. That rookie Alshon Jeffery won't mishandle the pass that would have been a touchdown in the first quarter and make more catches like the one in the second, when he saved an interception deep in Bears territory on a tipped ball by Giants cornerback Michael Coe by snaring the ball on its way down.
"It's never as good as you think and never as bad as you think," said receiver Brandon Marshall. "So we'll watch film and learn from it and get better and hopefully have a great week of practice and be where we need to be come Sept. 9."
Marshall was one of the few sources of reassurance, making what only can be called a professional touchdown catch over and around a defender on a 21-yard pass from Cutler in the first quarter, the receiver's first of the preseason.
"That's why we brought him here," said Bears coach Lovie Smith. "To make those type of plays when he's covered."
Charles Tillman is a playmaker as well, but as Smith put it, "everybody has a rough night sometimes," and you wouldn't expect him to commit a pass interference in the end zone like he did in the second quarter or to tackle the wrong guy like he did in the first. Nor would you expect the number of missed tackles and misplays on defense to permeate the regular season.
"Your third preseason game is important because you know you're going to play the guys a lot more and hopefully you get in a few more situations to prepare you for the season," Smith said. "But starting out in the first half, we didn't play as well as we needed to in all three phases."
Punter Ryan Quigley, playing in place of Adam Podlesh, who suffered a hip flexor last week and might not start the season, had his kick blocked deep in Bears territory and recovered at the 10-yard line. But Quigley looked good otherwise -- and not just in the bow tie he sported after the game, but the seven punts for an average of 37.4 yards, three inside the 20.
"I like seeing a guy with a great opportunity in front of him and he steps up to the plate," Smith said.
While it wasn't as if Cutler went untouched, the Bears' offensive line didn't allow a sack. And the hubbub over who would emerge as the starting left tackle appears to be all but over, as the prodding of J'Marcus Webb apparently caught his attention, though it's hard to tell with Webb.
Asked if he feels like he won the starting job, he referenced the pregame meal.
"We have to look at the film," he said. "In addition to the chicken and the shrimp and the pasta, that really made it a good night."
But what of the running game's impression of indigestion?
With carries of 24 and 11 yards on the Bears' first possession of the second half, Matt Forte's final numbers looked normal for him at 10 carries for 39 yards and an average of 3.9 yards per carry. But it was far from where the Bears need to be in that department, and unless you can write it off by saying they were playing the Super Bowl champions, it is not entirely clear why.
"We're trying to figure that out," Smith said. "You have to give them some credit, too. They have a good front four, they have a good front seven and they played excellent defense. But you just have to stay committed to the run, which we'll do. Some days, you won't be able to rush for over 100 yards or 200 yards, but we'll keep pounding it."
With all the hope for the passing game, it would be painfully ironic if Forte and Michael Bush can't hold up their end of things.
"We've got to get the running game going, we've got to get Matt going," Cutler said. "We're not going to be a successful offense if we can't run the ball."
More glaring Friday was what Cutler referred to as "communication stuff."
"Everything was a little bit off in the passing game," Cutler said. "We missed stuff. We missed a touchdown with me and [Earl Bennett]. Stuff easily fixed but needs to be fixed in the next two weeks."
"We'll watch the film," echoed Marshall.
And, of course, "we'll clean it up."
The Bears underwhelmed in their most important preseason contest.