NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Be careful drawing much in the way of conclusions out of preseason play.
Remember, the Bears were 0-4 a year ago and played poorly in getting to that record.
But the offense clicked months ahead of the pace of a year ago and quarterback Jay Cutler was in rhythm Saturday night in a 14-13 loss to the Titans at LP Field.
The starters rolled up 239 yards of offense in the first half en route to a 10-7 lead that would have been bigger if not for a missed field-goal attempt by Robbie Gould and poor clock management. Cutler completed 13 of 21 passes for 170 yards, spreading the ball to eight receivers. Matt Forte rushed for 74 yards on 17 carries, getting three carries of 10 or more yards in the first quarter. He scored on a 3-yard run in the first quarter.
It just looked smooth. The offensive line showed more improvement, and finding some continuity is what the dress rehearsal for the Sept. 11 opener with the Falcons was all about. At one point in the first half, the Bears converted five consecutive first downs — getting an 18-yard completion to Earl Bennett and a 13-yarder to Dane Sanzenbacher on two of them.
"We we're moving the ball, we just have to get points," coach Lovie Smith said.
Some key personnel observations could be made, particularly on offense. The Bears finally got a look at Johnny Knox with the first team and his chance came on the next snap after Roy Williams let a pass go through his hands on a deep-in cut, resulting in an interception by the Titans' Michael Griffin. Williams hauled in a 17-yard catch on the first play of the game — his first of preseason — but then displayed the iffy hands the Cowboys saw for three seasons.
"We're still working on it," Cutler said of his relationship with Williams. "So we'll see how it goes."
Williams' inconsistent performance and the focus of coaches and teammates on his conditioning makes it clear Knox is going to be back in the mix, maybe quicker than offensive coordinator Mike Martz envisioned. Sanzenbacher appears to have locked up a roster spot, a rare achievement for a Bears undrafted rookie free agent.
It's been expected Kahlil Bell will be the third running back, and that was pretty much confirmed when Chester Taylor was told before the game he wouldn't play. There's no way the team will keep four running backs with six wide receivers likely to stick, certainly not a fourth option due $1.25 million like Taylor. Perhaps the Bears didn't want to expose him to potential injury and then be on the hook for that pay.
Mike Tice announced his starting offensive line after only one week of training camp and it will remain unchanged barring something unforeseen.
"It's a process," center Roberto Garza said. "We've got to look at some of the good things we did, but there were still some points where he had some pressure. We're not there yet. It's just a small step. Nothing means anything until we get to the Falcons game."
Combine the half Cutler played at the Giants and this action, and he has thrown 42 passes and been sacked only once — a play at New York when he should have thrown the ball away.
"You can just see their confidence building," Cutler said. "Garza is running a clean show out there."
Veteran tight end Desmond Clark, brought back for his eighth season, left the field on a cart after safety Anthony Smith hit him in the left knee early in the fourth quarter. If he's seriously injured, it could create an opening for undrafted rookie Kyle Adams or lead the Bears to keep a fullback on the roster, something they didn't do last year.
On defense, Amobi Okoye looks secure after he picked up his third sack of the preseason. His third sack was also the team's third sack of the preseason as the pass rush and third defensive end are issues that remain unresolved.
The Titans, who got a 9-yard touchdown run from Chris Johnson fill-in Jamie Harper in the second quarter, went ahead 14-10 when Tommie Campbell returned an interception of a Caleb Hanie pass 90 yards for a touchdown with 1:08 remaining in the third quarter. The Bears pulled within 14-13 on Gould's 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.