LB Dwight Freeney (USA TODAY Sports)
New coach, new players, far too similar results. The Bolts turned the ball over four times and committed critical mistakes on special teams on their way to a second straight preseason loss, this one a 33-28 road defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bears.
CHICAGO -- Jay Cutler targeted Brandon Marshall and no one else. He zipped a pass into double coverage, only to get intercepted. The new and supposedly improved offense stagnated and the defense made up for it. Same old Chicago Bears? On the surface, it sure seemed like it.
Cutler looked shaky again and the defense came through, harassing Philip Rivers early on and setting the tone for the Bears in a 33-28 preseason victory over the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night.
All eyes remain on the quarterback after the Bears made some big changes on offense in the offseason, hiring coach Marc Trestman to replace Lovie Smith and revising their line.
So far, the results are mixed at best.
"There are certain plays we're running for the first time against a live defense other than the Bears'," Cutler said. "There are certain things you just have to experience. Sometimes you make mistakes, and sometimes it's going to go off without a hitch. When I was in Denver, we ran that offense for three years. Year 3, I think all of us had a great grasp of it. We don't have that luxury right now."
Cutler played a quarter and completed 4 of 5 passes for 38 yards and a touchdown, but the only receiver he targeted was Marshall, who is recovering from offseason hip surgery and sat out last week.
Field position played a role in that, as did the Bears not wanting to show too much of their playbook. Still, that's not a good sign for a team that wants to distribute the ball more evenly this year.
On a more positive note for the Bears' offense, Matt Forte ran for 74 yards and a touchdown on eight attempts after carrying just once in a loss at Carolina in the preseason opener.
His 58-yard run around the left end set up the game's first touchdown, a 5-yard strike from Cutler to Marshall.
Rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills held their ground at right guard and tackle.
Devin Hester also showed a spark, returning the game's opening kickoff 45 yards. And reserve Michael Ford ran one back 100 yards in the third quarter, leading to a 3-yard scoring run by Michael Bush.
The first-team defense sacked Rivers three times and forced two turnovers, even though star defensive end Julius Peppers (hamstring), defensive tackle Henry Melton (concussion) and linebacker D.J. Williams (strained right calf) sat out with injuries.
The Chargers lost again after getting pounded by Seattle last week.
Rivers downplayed the turnovers, even though he got swarmed as soon as he stepped on the field. He was 5 of 9 for 50 yards with an interception, and he lost a fumble on a sack by Shea McClellin, leading to a 3-yard run by Forte that made it 14-0 near the end of the first quarter.
"I think that can be overanalyzed," Rivers said. "They are what they are, but I don't see it as a step back. I have seen some bad play and non-rhythmic offenses in the preseason, then they have great years, and I have seen some great drives in the preseason and they all go for nothing in the regular season."
Backup Charlie Whitehurst came in early in the second quarter and was 6 for 9 for 69 yards and a touchdown. He fumbled away his first snap, leading to a field goal by Robbie Gould, but he also led the Chargers on an 80-yard TD drive late in the half.
Cutler got sacked twice on the opening drive, an ominous start after he threw an interception on Chicago's first play from scrimmage the previous week.
Jarret Johnson burst through the left side to force a fumble on second down that the Bears recovered, and Cutler held the ball too long on the next play, resulting in a sack for Corey Liuget.
Forte set up Chicago's first touchdown on the next possession when he turned a pitch into a 58-yard sprint down the left side to the 5. Marshall, who sat out last week after having offseason hip surgery, then caught a strike from Cutler in tight coverage to give the Bears a 7-0 lead.
They had a chance to add to it after Chris Conte picked off Rivers at the 35 on the next possession. But on the first play, Cutler got intercepted by Donald Butler trying to hit Marshall in double coverage.
"I didn't misread," Cutler said. "I knew what I was doing. (I) kind of got clipped, I let it go, but those are the ones that you kind of want to check down after you see the picture."
Trestman tried to take some blame for the pick, saying the Bears had not run that play much.
He also made it clear he wasn't thrilled with Cutler's decision, saying, "There's a time to force the ball and use your arm and put it up into man-to-man coverage when there's a single man and a single player, and that really wasn't one of those situations."
That Peppers sat out his second game was a bit of a surprise, considering Trestman had said he would play.
The Chargers held out Danny Woodhead because of his undisclosed injury and receiver Malcolm Floyd after he hurt his right knee in practice on Monday. Rookie linebacker Manti Te'o also sat out as expected after spraining his right foot against Seattle last week.
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