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Bad offensive performance, not Bears’ record causing concern

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is sacked by Derrick Johnson of the Chiefs on Saturday at Soldier Field. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

It’s a good thing preseason games don’t mean anything. If they did, you might be under the impression that the Bears’ first-string offense wouldn’t be able to score a touchdown if it were handed the ball in the opponent’s end zone.

If you didn’t know any better, Saturday’s 23-7 loss to the Chiefs might lead you to believe that the receivers can’t receive and the quarterback can’t quarterback. And don’t even start with the offensive line.

But we veteran observers know the preseason has as much meaning as lint, no matter how many dropped passes, missed blocks, sacks and bewildered players there were at Soldier Field.

Still, is there any way someone who predicted the Bears would go 7-9 this season could change his prediction to 5-11? Asking for a friend.

“It is preseason,’’ coach John Fox said.

The truth, preseason game or not, is that you should be very worried about the upcoming season if you are a Bears coach, a Bears player, a Bears fan or an unfortunate bear in the Brookfield Zoo that will have access to a TV on Sundays.

You can tell yourself that the preseason doesn’t matter, and nine times out of 10 you will be right. This looks like it might be the 10th time.

Here’s what I saw from the offense in the first half Saturday, in no particular order: a knocked-down pass, a badly overthrown pass, dropped passes, sacks, a receiver going where the ball wasn’t supposed to go, a false-start penalty immediately after the two-minute warning and a Jay Cutler fumble. I saw the Chiefs get 239 yards of total offense to the Bears’ 18, which included a net minus-nine yards passing. The Chiefs had 16 first downs to the Bears’ two in the first half. The first-string offense didn’t score a point.

“A lot of it’s fixable,’’ Cutler said. “… There are things that we can correct and we’re going to have to correct.’’

The Bears were without guard Kyle Long (shoulder injury) and tight end Zach Miller (concussion), and they could fall back on those absences while explaining how Saturday happened. Cutler hardly threw a deep pass, either to keep the real offense under lock and key until the regular season or to keep himself upright. All I know is that if the Bears describe their offensive game plan Saturday as purposely vanilla, vanilla ought to sue for slander.

They looked like the team that struggled offensively against the Broncos in the first preseason game, not the team that moved the ball against the Patriots in the second. The Chiefs have a good defense and a very good pass rush, but still.

The third preseason game is supposed to be the least meaningless of the exhibitions because the starters play more snaps in that game. It’s the “dress rehearsal’’ for the regular-season opener, which is why it’s hard to dismiss what happened Saturday. The offensive line will have three new starters this season, and if initial impressions mean anything, that’s not a good thing. If this was the dress rehearsal, it looked to be for a high school musical.

“We’ve just got to keep working,’’ Cutler said. “The alternative is just kind of saying we’re not going to be very good. That’s not going to work for us.’’

Fox is going to be hard-pressed to continue his career trend of significantly improving teams in his second season as their head coach. He did it in Carolina (7-9 to 11-5), and he did it in Denver (8-8 to 13-3). The Bears were 6-10 last season. Does anyone see a Carolina- or Denver-like jump coming?

Here’s the thing about preseason games: You come to them looking for reasons to believe, but you’ll take just about anything. A sliver of good news. A glimmer of hope. A thrown bone, for goodness’ sake. There was none of that from the first-string offense or defense Saturday.

True, Cutler didn’t get hurt, though backup quarterback Connor Shaw did suffer a grisly leg injury in the fourth quarter. Whether Cutler can make it through the season is very much a question.

Preseason records often have no correlation to regular-season success, which is why the Bears were advising everyone to ignore their 0-3 record. But it’s their performance, not their record that is causing consternation.

“Our goal in preseason — they are practice games and nobody remembers the record – is to get ready for the regular season,’’ Fox said.

If you say “preseason games are meaningless’’ enough times, you could, in theory, forget how bad the Bears looked Saturday. But probably not.