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How the Chicago Bears fared in their preseason debut, with reasons for optimism — and doubt — in each phase

It’s only the preseason, but for first-year Chicago Bears coach Matt Eberflus, Saturday’s 19-14 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs felt gratifying.

The day gave Eberflus an opportunity to test many parts of his program and was his first chance to run the entire show on game day. Afterward Eberflus expressed his eagerness to review it all, including the game-day operation and communication, the schemes on both sides of the ball and the performance of his players — from established starters to undrafted rookies clawing to win a roster spot.

The Bears have a quick turnaround this week before heading to Seattle for a Thursday night game against the Seahawks.

The preseason debut showed what to build on and illuminated areas in need of more work. Here’s our three-phase review of Saturday’s game.


Reason for optimism: There were flashes in Justin Fields’ 18 snaps over three series. On third-and-4, Darnell Mooney gained a step on his defender and Fields lofted a ball to the left sideline that only Mooney could leap to grab for a 26-yard completion. One drive later on third-and-9, Tajae Sharpe pulled in a 19-yard pass with one hand.

“We knew we’d have man coverage,” Sharpe said. “We had some pressure on that play. He gave me a go ball and he put it up in a great spot, back shoulder. Gave me a chance to go up and make a play.”

Fields and the Bears need more of those plays this season. He completed just 4 of 7 passes for 48 yards with no touchdowns, but given that he was playing without several starters, the pair of long completions allowed the Bears to leave Soldier Field with some hope.

Eberflus said Fields’ operation was smooth, noting how he hurried to the line to avoid a Chiefs challenge flag at one point. Fields said he is feeling “way more comfortable” with a year of experience. And the Fields-Mooney connection continues to look strong.

Reason for concern: The Bears’ depth of playmakers on offense was a question to begin with, so it’s obviously concerning that five of the most notable sat out with injuries.

Running back David Montgomery, tight end Cole Kmet and wide receivers Byron Pringle, N’Keal Harry and Velus Jones Jr. didn’t play. Eberflus has classified Montgomery, Kmet and Jones as day to day. But they’re still missing key time to build chemistry with Fields.

The Bears punted on all three of Fields’ series, stalling at the Chiefs 43-yard line twice. Eberflus noted a couple of drops that hurt the Bears.

In a stark contrast, the Chiefs offense marched 72 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown on starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ only drive.

Fields classified the Bears performance as “all right,” noting they have to get better at “pretty much everything.”

“There’s always room to improve,” he said. “We’re not perfect at anything.”

Worth noting: Solidifying the offensive line has been a key storyline at camp, and the game provided a look at some of the parts, though maybe not the full starting five.

The Bears gave rookie Braxton Jones the start at left tackle, where he has taken most of the first-team reps in recent practices. The fifth-round pick out of Southern Utah had a promising performance.

Veteran right guard Michael Schofield had the most notable miscue when Chris Jones beat him for one of two sacks of Fields. Eberflus was asked about Fields operating under pressure.

“We’ll look at those plays, where the pressures were, how we can firm it up,” he said. “Was it a situation where we needed to do a better job with our pass sets, whatever that might be. But we’ll get that cleaned up.”

Veteran Riley Reiff, who has taken many reps at first-team right tackle, sat out the game, and the Bears started Larry Borom instead. With center Lucas Patrick continuing his recovery from a hand injury, Sam Mustipher started there. If Patrick recovers in time for the season opener, it will be worth watching to see if the Bears put Mustipher back into competition with Schofield at right guard.


Reason for optimism: You’ve heard of Eberflus’ H.I.T.S. principle by now. So how did it turn out Saturday? Rookie safety Jaquan Brisker certainly checked the box for hustle in the first half, first with an aggressive stop on Chiefs running back Derrick Gore for a 2-yard loss and then two plays later with an instinctive break and a near interception on a Shane Buechele pass over the middle.

Intensity? Fellow rookie Dominique Robinson recorded the first of the defense’s two sacks, coming unblocked off the right edge in the third quarter and smothering Buechele for a loss of 12. Micah-Dew Treadway later sealed the win with a 9-yard sack of Dustin Crum on fourth-and-4 with 1:19 remaining.

Takeaways? The Bears won that battle 2-0, thanks to a Jack Sanborn interception and fumble recovery. Those turnovers led to nine points.

And situational smarts? In the second half, the Bears defense held the Chiefs to 18 total yards, two first downs and zero points.

Reason for concern: Cornerback Kyler Gordon, the team’s top draft pick, was prominently featured on the Gameday program. But Gordon was inactive and has been out for almost two weeks with an undisclosed injury. Adding to the concern, the rookie also missed all of minicamp in June and parts of organized team activities because of injury setbacks.

Gordon’s durability and availability are worth keeping a close eye on for the rest of the month. You can bet Eberflus wants him on the practice field as soon as possible, hoping to get him at least some action in preseason games.

“When players miss time on the grass, the actual playing of the game and working on the fundamentals and techniques, that hurts,” Eberflus said. “That hurts our football team and hurts their development.”

Worth discussing: As the proud new owner of a red challenge flag, Eberflus got his first opportunity to force officials to review a replay early in the second half.

The play in question was a 9-yard completion from Buechele to Josh Gordon right in front of the Bears sideline. With quick and clear communication from above, Eberflus was encouraged to throw the challenge flag as Gordon’s right foot was clearly not in bounds.

Challenge issued. Challenge won. Call overturned. But what happened from there really proved significant.

Forced into third-and-10 rather than third-and-1, Buechele was intercepted by rookie linebacker Sanborn on the next snap. Sanborn’s takeaway gave the Bears a short field, and the offense responded with a quick 27-yard touchdown march for their first points. That’s the ripple effect quality teams master. Shrewd coaching maneuvering leads to better opportunities for success, which frequently lead to big plays, which sometimes lead to touchdowns.

Those are the types of situations Eberflus has been training for as he works to become a sharp in-game coach. They’re also key for teams with a thin margin for error like the Bears. Consider that a small step in the right direction but a good start nonetheless.

Special teams

Reason for optimism: Rookie punter Trenton Gill, a seventh-round pick, had a nice debut, putting three of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line. He had an average of 42.6 yards with a net average of 36.4.

Gill and long snapper Patrick Scales also helped kicker Cairo Santos pick up where he left off last season. When the Bears let longtime punter Pat O’Donnell go in the offseason, Santos lost the holder who helped him during a franchise-record field-goal streak.

But Santos said Gill put his mind at ease the first day they worked together, and he nailed field goals from 20 and 47 yards Saturday plus an extra point.

Reason for concern: The Bears’ first punt return in the first quarter wasn’t ideal. Dazz Newsome muffed the catch. He recovered it at the 14-yard line, but an illegal block above the waist on Jaylon Jones pushed the Bears back to their 7.

The Bears turned to Dante Pettis to return punts next, and he had three fair catches before Chris Finke got some work. Rookie wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., an electric returner at Tennessee, sat out the game with an injury.

Worth noting: Sixth-round pick Trestan Ebner, who returned kickoffs and punts at Baylor, had two kickoff returns for 53 yards, including a 34-yarder to open the game.

He was solid all-around as he fights for a role, but the Bears have other options on kickoff returns, including Jones, running back Khalil Herbert and wide receiver Byron Pringle.


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