Last year, the Bears’ starters were undressed in their last “dress rehearsal.” It was beyond ugly as the Seahawks pummeled them mercilessly in a 34-6 rout at CenturyLink Field.
The best players on a team that had the playoffs in mind — the Super Bowl, even, if you asked Brandon Marshall — were completely outclassed by the defending Super Bowl champions on offense, defense and special teams.
The Bears looked slow and less physical. They appeared outcoached and less inspired.
After the drubbing, former coach Marc Trestman and his players were quick to shrug it off and downplay what it meant in the big picture. It was the preseason, they said; it didn’t matter. Fixes would be made, they promised; their confidence would not be shaken. That was the message.
But it did matter. It’s not just that they lost, but how. All of it can reflect the culture of the team — everything you’ve tried to instill in the offseason and throughout training camp.
Just ask John Fox, who has his first “dress rehearsal” as Bears coach Saturday night against the Bengals in Cincinnati.
“It’s a little bit unique when you’re a new staff,” Fox said Thursday. “Truth be told, I’ve only seen these guys play in two preseason games. I’m talking about feeling the emotion, feeling the energy, seeing their eyes. You know, things that are important when you sit in my seat.
“It’s real important to understand your football team. Everybody in the league has to cut down to 75 after this week, and then after the final preseason game, cut down to 53. So those are the guys that you’re going into the season with, and it’s important to choose wisely, and you’re evaluating everything.
“I can’t speak to that [Seahawks game]. I wasn’t even there. I don’t know whom we played in the third preseason game a year ago. It doesn’t leave a lasting impression when the games don’t actually count. But they do count in the evaluation process, in instilling what you want in your team, and how they react, because they are games.”
Fox had three 4-0 finishes in the preseason in his first five seasons in Carolina, including the Panthers’ Super Bowl season in 2003. Four of the last five Super Bowl champions won their third preseason game — the Packers, Ravens and Patriots by blowouts.
In retrospect, the Seahawks’ rout was the first indication that the Bears, who had won their first two preseason games in 2014, were in serious trouble — that once problems started on or off the field, they could snowball into disaster.
The Seahawks’ starters outscored the Bears’ 31-0 in the first half. Russell Wilson was 15-for-20 for 202 yards, two TDs and a 140.0 passer rating. Jay Cutler was sacked twice and completed 12 of 20 passes for 157 yards. He threw an interception and had a 64.0 passer rating.
The Bengals aren’t the Seahawks. And expectations aren’t nearly as high for the Bears this season or even for Saturday night with Cutler looking at Josh Bellamy and Rashad Lawrence as his top receivers.
The preseason mandates perspective — game-planning and advanced scouting is limited — but progress is monitored. The game is important for new coaching staffs. The Bears’ first-team offense still needs to score its first touchdown. The defense needs to build on its strong showing against Andrew Luck and the Colts.
“You’ve got to get your team right and [see] how your guys are playing your style of football,” outside linebacker Lamarr Houston said. “I think it’s more important for that than it is an indicator of how your team will do the rest of the season.”
But it can provide a glimpse.
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