Commentary

Excitement wanes quickly

Preseason games fun to discuss, not to watch

Originally Published: August 15, 2009
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

Ah, preseason football, so boring and yet so misleading, with the rare capability to make Al Afalava and Craig Steltz look like All-Pros, and All-Pro Jay Cutler look like Kyle Orton.

OK, that's unfair. Orton looked more like Rex Grossman in his Denver debut, with three interceptions on three consecutive possessions.

And Cutler? Running a vanilla offense against a vanilla defense and without running back Matt Forte and tight end Greg Olsen, whose preseason expectations are nearly as lofty as Cutler's, the Bears' new quarterback looked, well, vanilla. And vanilla is not what we were promised.

We will be told not to read too much into the Bears' 27-20 loss Saturday night to the Buffalo Bills. Fine. But we're also told that at many positions, game performance will have the biggest impact on the final roster; that winning is important any time someone is keeping score; that we're going to see a ball come out of the hands of Cutler that is so much more special than anything we've ever seen from a Bears QB, it will be dressed in black tie and tails.

So excuse us for being a little disappointed.

Cutler, looking hard for Devin Hester in his four possessions, threw behind him in the first series; was intercepted on a jump pass that Hester watched float into the hands of cornerback Leodis McKelvin in the second; and had his third-down pass intended for Hester in the end zone deflected by Buffalo linebacker Nic Harris on his final play of the night.

That was nearly Cutler's third pick of the game. His second pick almost came on the third series, when his arm was hit as he released the ball on an attempt over the middle to Earl Bennett. Instead, it hit the Bills' Reggie Corner directly on the numbers, but he dropped it.

And the bright spots for The Franchise?

Cutler completed a 20-yard comebacker to Hester and a nice 30-yard catch-and-run to a wide-open Desmond Clark on two separate series. Cutler also led the Bears on a scoring drive on that last possession -- a 23-yard field goal by Robbie Gould following the deflection by Harris.

Oh yes, and Cutler's No. 6 is the No. 1 seller among all NFL jerseys.

For the night -- um, quarter -- Cutler was 5-of-10 for 64 yards and one interception, with a 30.8 passer rating.

"Over the next couple weeks, we'll really start picking it up, start game-planning and go deeper into games," Cutler commented at halftime. "That's when we'll get a much better feel for where we're headed and what we've got."

For years we have seen Bears quarterbacks make poor decisions and throw ill-advised passes. But now that the Bears have a quarterback with actual talent, we are assured that this is what you get with the gifted guys -- they take chances. That with the great plays will also come the occasional boneheaded ones. And, of course, Bears fans will accept this happily, maybe even smugly, if it all indeed works out in the end.

But God help Cutler and any other quarterback wearing the orange and blue if it does not.

Driving the Bears' defense batty with the no-huddle, Buffalo starting quarterback Trent Edwards and backup Ryan Fitzpatrick combined to go 23-of-26 for 222 yards.

Bears backup Caleb Hanie, playing with considerably less protection than Cutler enjoyed, was 8-of-11 for 87 yards and one touchdown for a 125.9 passer rating.

Of course, it could've been worse. Bears third-string quarterback Brett Basanez watched his first Bears pass on his first Bears snap bounce off the hands of fellow rookie Johnny Knox and into the grasp of defensive end Ellis Lankster. Basanez then watched his second NFL pass also get picked off by Lankster, who took both to the Chicago 4-yard line, each time setting up a Buffalo touchdown.

Welcome to the NFL, indeed.

Basanez had one more interception on the night as well as a touchdown pass. And the Bills, albeit playing their second game of the preseason, looked sharper than they had any business looking, with 16 more minutes of possession time, 27 more offensive plays and 150 more yards of total offense.

On a Bears defense that is a very large wild card this season, there were missed tackles and just two sacks -- one on a corner blitz and one due to good coverage.

"We're not ready for prime time yet as a football team," said Bears coach Lovie Smith.

Fortunately, said Cutler, there is ample time before the Bears' season opener.

"If we come out and play like this against Green Bay," he said, "we'll have some problems."

At the very least, jersey sales could suffer.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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