FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Brandon Bolden bounced his inside run to the right, headed for the pylon. The Patriots running back tucked the ball in his left arm — the wrong one — and lowered his left shoulder, like a cyclist leaning into a turn.
Tracy Porter saw it, and pounced. The Bears cornerback put both arms around Bolden and yanked the ball out of the crook of his elbow with his left. The ball fell to the ground at the Bears’ 4; Porter landed, jumped up and fell on it.
The play wasn’t indicative of the final score — 23-22 Patriots— but it was a reminder, after a week of fretting, that the Bears can be competent. Even capable.
After a 22-0 loss the week before, the Bears led the Patriots 11-0 before they started sprinkling in second-stringers on both offense and defense.
Combine that with a relatively healthy four days at Patriot Place — no Chicago player was felled by, say, a pair of scissors — and Week 2 of the preseason was decidedly better for the Bears than the first.
“You gotta realize that you’re not going to go out there and ace the test on your first try,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “You gotta come in, every day and every week, and prepare.”
Guard Kyle Long stuck with the academic theme, saying that practicing against the Patriots all week was “good for us, like taking a different form of a test.”
Whatever the format, the Bears graded out better.
What was so disturbing about the exhibition opener defeat was which players on the Bears were beat. Their Bears’ flaws are rooted in their young depth, not necessarily the talent of their best 11 players.
Still, the starting offense had 13 yards on 10 plays against the Broncos. Thursday night, the Bears had 34 yards after two plays and 46 after three. Jeremy Langford’s eight carries for 55 yards topped the entire team’s rushing total of 17 carries for 48 yards the week before.
The Bears scored three points on Robbie Gould’s 36-yard field goal, six points on Langford’s five-yard run, and two more on Rob Housler’s two-yard catch — all within the game’s first 10 minutes.
Jay Cutler completed 8-of-12 passes for 83 yards, and that’s with a Kevin White drop. Alshon Jeffery’s two catches for 41 yards completed perhaps one of the receiver’s best weeks ever; he dominated the Patriots’ secondary during practice and again Thursday.
“We got some points,” Cutler said. “We were a little bit more efficient. There were a few penalties sprinkled in there that we got to clean up. But the guys played hard.”
The Bears facing Rolling Meadows High School alum Jimmy Garoppolo, the surprise starter after, reports said, Tom Brady accidentally sliced his thumb before the game.
The Eastern Illinois alum said he found out “pretty suddenly” that he was slated to start.
The Bears were gifted a three-and-out when Aaron Dobson dropped a third-down pass from Garoppolo — who went 16-for-21 for 181 yards and a touchdown — to end the first drive.
The second drive ended on Bolden’s fumble — not that it had been pretty for the Bears. The Patriots marched 81 yards on 12 plays, aided by two poor Porter plays. He took a bad angle on LeGarrette Blount’s 21-yard run and, on the next play, committed a blatant pass interference penalty on receiver Chris Harper for 11 more yards.
Porter said he didn’t keep the right depth when Blount bounced the run outside, and refused to let Bolden do the same.
“I wasn’t going to get down that far to the line of scrimmage to force the fumble,” he said.
By the time the Patriots got the ball back after the fumble, though, the Bears were playing backups.
“The quality of our play is what it is ….” coach John Fox said. “Luckily for us it improved.”