The lessons of preseason are sometimes suspect and inconclusive, but the first half of Saturday night's exhibition opener against the Cincinnati Bengals was precisely the way the Bears want to play.
The Bears prevailed 16-13 in overtime, but more than the score, the coaches will focus on what happened in the first two quarters, when the most starters played. The Bears controlled the ball nearly 21 of the first 30 minutes at Soldier Field and produced a 13-3 lead.
In the fourth quarter the Bengals tied the score 16-16 on quarterback Akili Smith's 8-yard scramble with 1:53 remaining. Cincinnati had a chance for the win when cornerback Robert Bean intercepted a Danny Wuerffel pass and returned it 66 yards to the 9. But Bean fumbled when the Bears' Glyn Milburn and Anthony Thomas ran him down. The Bears recovered, and the game went to overtime.
"It was worth the try and it got us the ball back," Milburn said.
Paul Edinger kicked a 48-yard field goal with 41 seconds left in the extra period to give the Bears the victory.
"Nobody wants to play overtime in the preseason, but that's the way it was," Bears coach Dick Jauron said. "It doesn't count, but this team has to learn to win. We haven't won enough, so we have to enjoy it."
In the first half, the Bears got impact play out of their young players.
Linebacker Rosevelt Colvin met Bengals running back Brandon Bennett head-on late in the first quarter. Linebacker Khari Samuel, the second man in on the hit, ripped the ball loose.
Defensive end Bryan Robinson made the recovery, leading to the first of two field goals in the half. Edinger (44 yards) and Vitaly Pisetsky (45) each put three points on the board.
The half ended with a sack by Bears defensive end Carl Powell. The Bears held Cincinnati to four first downs in the first half to their 10.
Milburn broke punt returns of 9, 22 and 17 yards in his first three runbacks.
Wide receiver Dez White provided the first half's other Bears points, cutting across the field from the left and taking a pass from quarterback Cade McNown at the 3-yard line, then outracing defenders for the touchdown.
Within the offense's successful first half were small indicators of what the Bears intend for their game plans. . The Bears elected to go on a fourth-and-1 at the 50-yard line and picked up the first down on a dive by tailback Marlon Barnes. That set up the next play, a play-action fake to Barnes, then a McNown-to-Kaseem Sinceno completion for another first down.
The sequence was emblematic of the Bears' version of a West Coast offense that coordinator John Shoop is installing.
Shane Matthews, the No. 1 quarterback with Jim Miller still not completely over a strained hamstring, completed 2-of-4 passes for 3 yards. McNown completed six of his first eight throws for 45 yards in the first half and finished with 9-of-15 for 75 yards and a TD. Wuerffel played the fourth quarter and overtime. He was 12-of-20 for 150 yards.
"I'm not worried about whether I'm first, second, third or fourth," Wuerffel said. "I just got a chance to play and I got to play in overtime."
McNown's announcement as the Bears' quarterback to start the second quarter drew an immediate chorus of boos from the crowd of 38,209. The fans' mood did not improve when McNown juggled his first snap from backup center Brad Williams.
Rookie wideout David Terrell made his pro debut at the start of the third quarter. The No. 1 draft choice threw a block for fellow Michigan Wolverine Anthony Thomas on the Bears' first play of the second half. Terrell caught his first pass, a 9-yard completion from McNown several plays later.
After the pass, Thomas, who was the Bears' second pick, gained 2 yards for his first rushing first down in a Bears uniform.