CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears came into the season with a different look and started it on that same old losing note.
A 23-14 season-opening loss at Houston on Sunday showed they still have plenty of work to do if they’re going to improve on a last-place finish in the NFC North.
Quarterback Jay Cutler took a beating behind a revamped line. The offense stalled after a promising start and a defense that got a makeover failed to make enough plays. It all added up to a rocky opening for a team that went 6-10 last season.
“It’s there,” coach John Fox said. “I think we haven’t been whole for very long and particularly the offensive line. We just added a guy (guard Josh Sitton) this past week. He slid in, we kind of juggled two guys. All in all, I think the ability is there. Now, it’s just getting on the same page.”
Fox’s teams in Carolina and Denver made big jumps in his second season, and the Bears would love to see that pattern continue in Chicago. But there is clearly plenty of work to do heading into their matchup against Philadelphia on Monday night.
“We can’t change what happened,” said White, who missed his rookie season because of a shin injury. “So we have to move on and just get ready for the Eagles.”
The Bears looked good early against Houston, with Tracy Porter’s interception on the game’s opening possession leading to a touchdown drive. But the defense failed to produce more big plays like that and gave up 12 third-down conversions.
The offense was shut out in the second half. Alshon Jeffery went the final two quarters without a reception after catching four passes for 105 yards in the first half. Kevin White had a difficult debut, finishing with three catches for 34 yards. Cutler threw for 216 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but was sacked five times and hit 13 more playing behind a line with three new starters.
“I don’t feel great,” Cutler said. “I didn’t get hit a lot in preseason, so the last time I’ve been hit like that was last year. Usually, you want to build in to these, and then week four and five, when you’ve gotten used to it, take a few shots then. I’ll bounce back pretty quickly though.”
Opening the season against one of the league’s toughest defenses would be a tough task for any offensive line, particularly one with so many new starters. But while Fox referenced the late signing of three-time Pro Bowl left guard Josh Sitton, left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and new right tackle Bobby Massie didn’t exactly distinguish themselves against Houston.
That’s something that’s going to have to change if the Bears are going to make a jump — and if Cutler is going to stay upright. The Bears at least have two elite guards with Sitton’s arrival and Kyle Long back inside with Massie’s signing after filling in at right tackle a year ago.
Sitton’s arrival also created some last-minute shuffling, with Chicago starting rookie Cody Whitehair at center over veteran Ted Larsen after he had been working primarily at left guard.
“I’d say it’s just time and experience,” Cutler said. “It’s Cody’s first game out there. Sit’s (Josh Sitton) been with us for four or five days. We don’t want to make excuses at all. We practiced against all kinds of stuff all week. Like I said, there was nothing up front, nothing on the back end, or anything defensively that we weren’t prepared for.”
The Bears will need to cut down on the breakdowns that marked Sunday’s game, such as the fumbled snap between Cutler and Whitehair on a fourth-and-1 play. There was another in the opening minute of the second half, when White appeared to pull up on a route rather than cut to the right flat.
A lunging Andre Hal intercepted the pass, leading to a field goal for Houston that made it a one-point game. Cutler was seen pointing at White, who missed his rookie season because of a shin injury, and waving toward the right sideline after the interception.