The evening was billed as a dress rehearsal for the regular season, a time for players to show both coaches and the Soldier Field faithful what could be expected in the upcoming year. The Cardinals were a solid enough team to provide a challenge. But in theory, it looked like a preseason game the Bears should easily win.
Somehow, it all went wrong.
Lance Briggs went down with an ankle injury, taking his place on the sideline next to fellow linebacker Brian Urlacher, who was nursing a calf strain. Robbie Gould, the Bears' go-to guy for a near-automatic three points, saw his efforts blocked on one attempt and another that hit the uprights. The Cardinals' Derek Anderson looked like Johnny Unitas in his prime, as his passer rating soared to 111.1 against a porous Chicago defense. Even Matt Leinart came away with a Pro Bowl-quality rating of 135.0, as Arizona beat the Bears by a score of 14-9.
One of the few bright spots of the night was the running ability of recently-signed ex-Vikings vet Chester Taylor, who found a hole in the Cardinals' defense midway through the second quarter and scooted away for 34 yards. It was the longest run of the game for Chicago. When asked in the locker room after the game about the play, Taylor laughed and told reporters, "It wasn't planned. I was just running for my life."
The statement could have more truth to it than Bears fans would appreciate.
Taylor came to the Bears on the first day of free agency after signing a $12.5 million deal. At that time, Taylor told the Chicago media that he'd chosen the Bears so he could be part of a "team that could contend for the Super Bowl." Back in March, that seemed like a reasonable expectation.
But not now.
On paper, Taylor would seem to be a good fit for the Mike Martz offense in the same way that Marshall Faulk was when he played for Martz in St. Louis. Whether or not Martz can produce similar results from Taylor in Chicago still remains to be seen.
Taylor himself, however, remained optimistic.
"We didn't generate the kind of yardage out there tonight that we'd hoped for," Taylor said. "Mistakes were made, there's no denying that, but this is still the preseason. We're just out of training camp at this point. Where we go from here begins with studying the film from tonight. We'll be at Halas Hall early Sunday morning and go over it until we've found all our mistakes. That could take a while."
And after that?
"We go to the field and work until things are corrected," he said.
Taylor's approach is to properly analyze the loss, rather than simply put it in his rearview mirror.
"There are two schools of thought on that among players in the NFL," Taylor said. "You can either try to forget about what went wrong and start out fresh each week, or you can take the time to search out where things went wrong and fix them so that never happens again. The latter is the approach I've always taken. I think the upcoming game this Thursday [at Cleveland] will provide a good opportunity to refine our game. It's still the preseason, but you are at that point where you need to be ready for the games that count. It's our last chance to do that."
Even the ever optimistic Lovie Smith seemed at a loss to explain the Bears' poor performance.
"The first half hurt," Smith said. "We were not where we wanted to be at the third preseason game. We were never consistent with offense. [Quarterback] Jay [Cutler] was under too much pressure. We made adjustments at the half, but they didn't get us to where we needed to be."
With two talented backs in Taylor and Matt Forte, the Bears have the potential to mount a formidable running attack. Taylor rushed for a career-high 1,216 yards the one year he was the starter with the Vikings, in 2006. Forte has been consistent in his production for Chicago, albeit more so in 2008 than 2009. The combination of the two should be enough to spread defenses and give Cutler some of the options he sorely needs in the passing game.
Taylor is certain things will work out.
"We still have time," he said. "[Week 1 against] Detroit is a few weeks away at this point. Just because things haven't turned out the way we wanted them to the past three weeks doesn't mean that all is lost. I expect a good outing against Cleveland. We'll be coordinating our attack. Then we'll use that momentum to get ready for Detroit."
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Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.
Potential Remains Just That for Taylor
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