It wasn't always pretty, but the Bears survived their biggest test in the preseason with a 20-17 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. It was an up and down game on both sides of the ball. Jay Cutler and the first string offense looked solid in a first quarter drive that finished with a 21 yard strike to Brandon Marhshall for a Bears touchdown. The rest of the time the first string seemed uneven. Cutler finished 9/21 for 96 yards and one touchdown. Matt Forte struggled with 10 rushes for only 39 yards, 24 of which were picked up on a single run. On the defensive side, the Bears failed to record a single sack against the Giants and were having trouble containing rookie running back David Wilson but did manage to record a game saving interception in the end zone by rookie cornerback Isaiah Frey. Eli Manning was solid going 17/21 for 148 yards and one touchdown and leading the Giants to a 17-7 halftime lead but it was Bears' backup quarterback Jason Campbell who impressed the most. Campbell went 12/19 for 101 yards and touchdown and led the Bears to a 2nd half come from behind victory.
Marshall was solid for the second straight week and showed why he is a #1 wide receiver. Marshall pulled in 5 catches for 51 yards including a 21 yarder in the first quarter from Cutler. Marshall continue to shows ability to separate himself from coverage and the "go up and get it" attitude that has made him a top threat in the league. Marshall probably won't be featured too much in the preseason finale game against Cleveland but he has impressed in his limited appearances racking up 116 yards and a touchdown. Jay Cutler looked his way early and often and expect that to be the case when the games really start to count.
Campbell may have officially locked up the #2 spot on the roster after Friday night's performance. Campbell showed poise, accuracy and efficiency when he took over in the third quarter. Leading the Bears to 10 out of 13 second half points. After an awful performance in the first preseason game Campbell has now gone 21/34 for 242 yards and a touchdown. Campbell should play a decent amount in the final preseason game, but it looks like he is as good as advertised to backup Cutler. You can erase his name off of the #2 spot and start writing it in pen.
Just like Jason Campbell, this guy is looking like he is guaranteed a roster spot either as a third string running back or on special teams. Booker was solid again in the return game with a 42 yard kickoff return. He also had 4 catches for 30 yards and 15 yards on 5 rushes. He has a burst of speed and the ability to get past just about anybody. He can be used as a solid return option to aid Hester and Weems or as a solid option at running back behind Forte and Bush. Regardless, Booker has been so solid that I would be shocked to see him not make a roster at this point.
Forte had a rough outing on Friday with only 39 yards on 10 carries. The majority of those yards were on a 24 yard run in the third quarter. At one point Forte had 8 carries for just 4 yards. While I don't expect this to be the norm for Forte when the season gets going it does beg the question of whether foregoing the OTA's during the spring may have hurt his progression. Forte is always in top condition but he definitely seemed a little laggy in this game. I don't expect this to continue but for being the last chance to see Forte for a stretch of time before the season opener, it was a disappointment.
While Jason Campbell put the Bears in the lead, Josh McCown just about took them out of it. McCown saw limited action and went only 1/2 for 2 yards. He was sacked and seemed hesitant. Given the limited time he played I can't be too hard on him, but for a guy fighting for a roster spot and who's competition(Matt Blanchard) didn't play at all, it is hard to put McCown anywhere besides here. He has one more game to prove himself and he should see plenty of action. If he can rebound and show the coaches something that might be enough to give him the nod over the rookie Blanchard.
Speaking of Blanchard, where was he? With Cutler going into the third quarter it was hard to find time for everyone to play. Blanchard didn't see a single play on the field and that means he has even more to prove next week in a do or die game where he has to outshine the veteran Josh McCown. It will be tough but Blanchard has impressed with the time he has appeared, but not appearing at all tonight may have sealed the fate of the try hard rookie.
Anyone else getting more and more concerned that these guys are seeming like they will be here for a while? While the NFL owners and commissioner continue to turn a blind eye, the officials stunk it up again. Most notably on a play at the end of the first quarter where time expired but for some reason the officials decided to have a dead clock play and gave the Giants one more play. The announcers were just as confused as most viewers were and when Greg Gumbel asked his partner Dan Dierdorf if he could explain what had just happened Dierdorf said bluntly "I can't." There was also a flag thrown on a helmet to helmet contact play on Brandon Marshall that was called, then picked up, but then was showed that is clearly should have stayed a penalty as Marshall was clearly hit in the head by the Giants' defensive player. The refs continue to look like buffoons by not knowing the proper rules and penalties and it is gaining more and more agitation from both players and coaches. The NFL owners apparently don't want to pony up an extra $100,000 per team for the real officials to be compensated, but when their own players are being injured or penalties are going the wrong way, maybe then they will start to change their minds. Right now though, we are stuck with this garbage, and it doesn't look like it's getting picked up any time soon.
A LOOK AHEAD
The regular season is fast approaching with just one preseason standing in the way of good old fashioned, honest to goodness football. Fantasy drafts are well underway(personally: 1 down and 2 to go) and the games are going to start counting for real....but there's still one more game. The fourth and final preseason game is usually looked at as a game between backups and more backups who are fighting for roster spots. Expect that to stand true with the Bears when they take on Cleveland next Thursday. The starters may see one series and may not see the field at all, but with position battles still up in the air it is possible to see the left tackle battle finally get resolved as well as whether Alshon Jeffery is the Bears #2 wide receiver behind Marshall and how the other depth chart positions shake out. It may be a rough game to watch, but the remainder of the roster will be filled out based on each player's performance who may be on the bubble.
SIDE NOTE: I will be attending the Indianapolis Colts/Cincinnatti Bengals game Thursday night with my girlfriend so a recap may have to wait until Friday morning.
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