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Monday, August 22, 2011
Updated: August 23, 9:40 AM ET
The only positive that matters

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Please excuse the delay in starting this column, but officials are still reviewing the final score …

The final determination, a 41-13 preseason drubbing of the Chicago Bears by the New York Giants on Monday night, was as painful as it sounds. But because this is the preseason, and because the Bears went 0-4 in the exhibition round last year and still made it to the NFC Championship Game, and because quarterback Jay Cutler says it's so, we won't overreact to the worst preseason loss since the Dave Wannstedt era.

We'll try not to notice that Roy Williams is still apparently working himself into shape for the real games. We'll assume that Bears special teams coach Dave Toub will remind his charges that roster spots are won and lost on special teams. And that Major Wright has located his shorts at about the 9-yard line, where he was faked out of them on a second-quarter touchdown run by Brandon Jacobs.

Marion Barber
Marion Barber getting stopped on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the third quarter was one of the lowlights for the Bears.

Despite the fact that the Bears' pass-run ratio in the first half was 22-8, we will believe it was simply a case of offensive coordinator Mike Martz just trying to keep Matt Forte safe and test his offensive line, and that Martz has no intention of returning to his old ways when the regular season begins.

We will also try to keep a straight face at this assessment by Cutler, who played the entire first half, presumably to sustain at least one drive, which never really transpired to the point of actually crossing the goal line.

"The offensive line got better," said Cutler, who had seven offensive series and converted no third downs in six attempts. "We completed some passes, we got some first downs, got the receivers involved. We need to get the running game a little bit more involved, but we made some strides. … Overall, we're heading in the right direction."

He was right. The offensive line did get better. Blame Cutler -- who still doesn't remember the Giants' epic nine sacks against him (10 in all) last season -- for the only sack of the first half. Blame his receivers for dropping four of Cutler's passes.

And blame the Bears' special teams for a good part of the early drubbing. They gave up one 73-yard kickoff return to New York's Devin Thomas, which was turned into a touchdown on that 18-yard run by Jacobs. They also allowed rookie Spencer Lanning's punt to be blocked and returned by the Giants to the Bears' 6-yard line, which Eli Manning converted into a 5-yard touchdown pass, which eluded Corey Graham.

The Bears have yet to score a touchdown under Cutler this preseason, which even had Bears coach Lovie Smith expressing mild concern.

"We've got to be able to finish drives," he said, not even referring to Marion Barber getting stopped at the Giants' 1 on a fourth down in the third quarter, albeit behind the second unit. "We got in the red zone a lot, but we've got to be able to cash it in."

Smith was as direct as you will ever hear him be in the preseason, and as funny as you will hear him almost ever, reacting to one of the few positives to come out of Monday night.

"Injury-wise, we didn't have any," he said. "But you've got to tackle a little bit better before you can start talking about injuries."

The Giants rolled up 218 yards rushing for three rushing touchdowns to go along with two passing touchdowns, at least partially explained by their average starting field position at their own 42.

"It's not what we wanted but, at the same time, you don't get to use all your weapons, all your calls, all your situations," defensive tackle Henry Melton said. "But at the end of the day, you still want to outperform the other people."

Smith called Wright's poor outing typical of simply "a bad night at the office" and explained away Williams' drops by reasoning that "tonight we didn't see a lot [of progress], but we see it behind the scenes and eventually it will show up on the field."

Perhaps, but don't count on the chemistry that's so critical between quarterback and receiver to be in place by the start of the season. In the meantime, it's pretty obvious that Cutler will be looking for Earl Bennett (three catches for 58 yards) as he always has, and will perhaps start looking for undrafted rookie free agent Dane Sanzenbacher, who was targeted seven times and caught four for 34 yards.

Smith said he wished his team could have five preseason games for the extra work, but they will be busy enough with three games in 11 days as they travel to Tennessee to face the Titans on Saturday before hosting the Cleveland Browns on the following Thursday, Sept. 1.

Until then, we'll look for more positives, like the fact that everyone left the Meadowlands healthy.

"Yeah," Cutler said. "Upright."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.