FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Chicago Bears' offense still has a long, long way to go, but its improvement in Foxborough against the New England Patriots Thursday night over Week One at home vs. the Broncos was as close to a quantum leap as I’ve seen a Bears unit take during the exhibition season in some time.
Last week, I wrote about the offense’s startling futility in the first three quarters keyed by the inefficiency of the first unit.
Versus the Patriots, the first-team offense scored on a 36-yard Robbie Gould field goal and a five-yard Jeremy Langford touchdown on its first two drives. They moved the ball 59 yards in 10 plays after the opening kickoff, and then following a New England three-and-out courtesy of the starting 'D', they went 64 yards on 11 plays.
Jay Cutler and company were thwarted with a three-and-out on their third possession at 11:19 of the second quarter before retiring for the evening, but the statement had been made.
The Bears controlled the first period time of possession 11:02 to 3:58, were very productive on first and second down and converted four of five third downs — although two conversions were courtesy of Patriots penalties.
Cutler completed his first six passes, the first two to Alshon Jeffery, who has been the best player on the football field all week long in Foxborough, and Langford finally showed the explosion he promised coming out of Michigan State with a 34-yard scamper to set up his touchdown run.
Where did the sudden improvement come from and to what can we attribute it?
It wasn’t the offensive line. While Kyle Long played well and is clearly more comfortable back at right guard than he ever was at tackle, Charles Leno, Cody Whitehair, Ted Larsen and Bobby Massie all struggled at times, and Larsen in particular looks like he may be a bit over-matched at center.
I think this team played better because it felt better about itself and found some momentum in its two days of practice with the Patriots, particularly Tuesday, which was clearly their best practice of the preseason.
John Fox said after Monday’s first joint practice, “It’s great. As I’ve said even before we came here, the experience of a year ago in Indianapolis and what I’ve done in the past with other teams, I think guys get kind of tired of banging on each other and seeing the same offense, the same defense, the same kicking game every day. It’s good to expose them to different stuff like we’re going to get during the regular season.”
There is that and more. While both Fox and Bill Belichick said they weren’t trying to bring things up a notch, allow more contact or encourage guys to go harder, there was no question from anybody watching the workouts that both sides did.
On Tuesday, the Bears' offense — particularly the wide receivers — put a little swagger in their steps after several wins in the seven-on-seven passing drills.
Many teams stage joint workouts once during the preseason, but this is the second week in a row the Patriots have had guests after working with the Saints last week.
Belichick is without question the best coach in the NFL today and it isn’t an accident that the Pats work more against other clubs in the preseason than anyone else.
Clearly, there is not much to celebrate in a 23-22 loss in the second exhibition game of the preseason.
One of the upshots of this week with Kyle Fuller staying in Chicago and Bryce Callahan sidelined all week as well, and Jacoby Glenn leaving the Patriots game due to a concussion, the Bears' already-suspect secondary is dangerously thin and a huge question mark with the opener now just three weeks away
But these camps are about progress, and the Bears' offense took a significant step in New England against one of the league’s best teams, and that made the week in New England a trip well worth making.