By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter
11:45 PM CDT, August 24, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Bears came to MetLife Stadium on Friday night looking for a couple of answers.
Maybe some solutions emerged, but there are still more questions remaining for this team with time for evaluations and Plan B discoveries running out.
The Bears (2-1) rallied to win their second consecutive exhibition over an NFC East foe, claiming a 20-17 victory after Jason Campbell's 12-yard touchdown pass to Joe Anderson in the fourth quarter and rookie Isaiah Frey's interception in the end zone with 1 minute, 6 seconds remaining.
There was not much conclusive evidence on the left side of the offensive line. But Jay Cutler was not sacked by a defense that had an NFL-high 13 through the first two weeks of the exhibition season.
J'Marcus Webb and Chris Spencer started and played the first four possessions, getting more time than challengers Chris Williams and Chilo Rachal. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice — who said earlier in the week: "We'll all know when we watch the game" — opted not to rotate them as quickly. Webb missed defensive end Osi Umenyiora on a run, and Matt Forte was stuffed in the backfield. Williams allowed one pressure against Umenyiora. Spencer looked steady, as he did against Washington.
Presumably, a decision will be made next week. Based on how the rotations were designed, it appears Webb and Spencer never really lost hold of their spots. What is concerning is that it took a full training camp and three preseason games to reach this point. Webb played all 1,007 snaps at left tackle last season and 778 snaps in 2010 at right tackle. If 1,785 plays over two seasons didn't secure his position, and if he's the Week 1 starter, you must wonder just how much faith there will be in him.
"I think I will be the starter, but that is out of my hands," Williams said. "It's over now."
Webb was similarly confident but was more interested in discussing what he had for lunch. He did say, "I would like some resolution, but that is not up to me."
"We're in a good place," Cutler said. "We're heading in the right direction. We just need to clean up a few things. Really, it's communication things, which is the easiest part to clean up. Physically, we're in the right place. We're doing the right things."
It's impossible to put much stock in exhibitions, but there were areas that will not grade out well. The defense had a significant hole in the middle with linebacker Brian Urlacher missing. Everyone continues to point to a Sept. 9 return for him in the season opener, but he hasn't practiced since July 31 and isn't two weeks removed from Aug. 14 arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Nick Roach struggled in the first half and was blocked on consecutive runs by David Wilson for 20 and 15 yards in the first quarter. The Bears can't say when Urlacher will return and how his knee will hold up.
Cornerback Charles Tillman had a forgettable game. He was called for two pass interference penalties to give him three in two games. Eli Manning, who completed 17 of 21 passes for 148 yards and one touchdown, picked on him repeatedly, including on an 11-yard touchdown pass to Ramses Barden. In just the first half, Tillman was credited with 10 tackles, and when a cornerback produces like that, it's often because a lot of passes are being completed against him.
The 31-year-old was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time last season and has never relied on speed. He's got to win with his physical nature, and the Bears will hope it's a case of a crafty veteran not bringing his best for a preseason game. The defense also failed to generate much of a pass rush, and that will haunt the secondary if it continues.
Cutler completed 9 of 21 passes for 96 yards with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall. What would have been a touchdown to Earl Bennett on the first series of the third quarter was dropped. Forte (39 yards, 10 carries) didn't get going until the third quarter when he got two nice gains on the edge.
The next good look at the starters will be when it counts for real.
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