No matter what the scoreboard said Monday night at the RCA Dome, this was a loss for the Bears.
Of whatever skeptics had started to believe about quarterback Rex Grossman becoming efficient enough during training camp to avoid the depths that defined his inconsistency last year.
The 27-24 exhibition victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Colts didn't mean anything. But Grossman went to great lengths to make sure his supporters would have to drive that point home.
Grossman mishandled the football four times in 25 plays, and two of those came pulling away from center. Those were not the kind of Super Bowl memories Bears fans wanted to relive.
"We should be beyond that," coach Lovie Smith said of the botched center-quarterback exchanges.
"I promise you it won't be a problem," Grossman said.
It wasn't the only one on a night the offense took a half-step backward.
The cringing started when Robert Mathis knocked the ball out of Grossman's hands on the Colts' 25-yard line and Ed Johnson recovered. It continued on the next series when Grossman forced an interception that Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson picked off when Rashied Davis failed to get position on a slant pattern.
Then Grossman dropped a snap on the next series at his own 4. Later in the second quarter the ball hit the ground again when it fell out of Grossman's hands at the Colts' 3, but center Olin Kreutz recovered.
A problem with the cadence created the first botched snap and Grossman blamed some sweat on his forearm on the second but, valid or not, excuses are so 2006.
"It's unacceptable is what it is," Kreutz said, trying to deflect criticism he knows will find Grossman.
The stat sheet shows that Grossman completed a crisp 9 of 11 passes for 59 yards and directed the No. 1 offense to drives that produced a touchdown and a field goal. But the numbers aren't what will keep Chicago buzzing until Saturday's next glimpse of Grossman. Nor were they what WBBM-AM analyst Tom Thayer focused on during Monday's telecast when he referred to the growing competition at the quarterback position.
Backup Brian Griese looking sharp for the second straight week only will revive a debate that is hard to imagine Smith ever restarting.
"We can't have those types of things happen, but they did," Smith said. "We will just go back to the drawing board."
Don't expect a blank easel when Smith starts addressing the quarterback position.
If a pattern begins to form during the regular season, that will be a different argument. But Grossman's off-season progress has earned him the right to have a game as bad as the one he pitched against the Colts.
You can't go into a game insisting it doesn't matter and then overreact and suggest starting a quarterback controversy based on the level of play in that game. That's as illogical as it is unfair.
"I haven't lost any [momentum] and I hope Chicago fans and everyone else hasn't lost any. There were a couple plays that we'll learn from," Grossman said. "I'm a pretty optimistic guy and I still feel like just because I threw an interception in preseason doesn't mean I didn't have a great off-season and made progress."
No matter how much progress Griese or Kyle Orton have made the last couple of weeks, Grossman easily remains the Bears' most skilled player at the position and still gives the team the best chance at returning to the Super Bowl.
But the margin for error with Grossman in this Super Bowl-or-bust season is thinner than his patience with critics. More than anything, the errors against the Colts reaffirmed that.
The mistakes also reminded everybody in the national TV audience that the Bears' own executives are so unconvinced of Grossman's consistency that they will wait for more evidence before offering him a long-term contract.
Smith's spin after Monday's game shifted emphasis away from any potential challenge to Grossman's job and toward the improved play of the special teams against the Colts. They did earn it though.
A week after looking shaky against the Texans, the Bears' special teams showed how much the perception of a unit can change with one solid game. That's worth remembering as the Grossman discussion heats up.
Danieal Manning's 72-yard kickoff return gave the coaching staff something to think about when they consider ways to keep dynamo Devin Hester fresh. Hester's 50-yard punt return that set up the No. 1 offense's only touchdown drive, which would have been a TD if he didn't trip on teammate Brandon Rideau's foot, proved how important it is for the Bears to keep Hester healthy.
Ricky Manning Jr.'s strip of Colts kickoff return man T.J. Rushing, recovered by Mike Hass, provided special-teams coordinator Dave Toub some proof the extra work on coverage paid off.
Nearly lost on everybody was the performance turned in by the Bears' defense, playing for the first time with linebacker Brian Urlacher. After Grossman's interception gave the Colts the ball at the Bears' 17, the defense stiffened and got the ball back without giving up a point.
Some people might have been disappointed the Bears didn't play defensive tackle Tommie Harris as Smith indicated they would. But after holding his left hamstring during a long pregame conversation with a member of the Bears' medical team, such caution should be applauded.
The Bears need Harris healthy and thriving Sept. 9 against the Chargers, not now.
Their biggest issue in August is the calendar—even bigger than the quarterback.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun