Unwittingly, the Bears may be on their way to solving a frustrating problem of recent years-peaking too soon.
The preseason seldom portends a National Football League team's fortune for September through January.
But the manner of the Bears' third straight preseason loss gives reason for mild concern.
Are they on pace to answer the bell in the regular-season opener Sept. 6 against the Detroit Lions? Not to mention maintaining momentum through December?
Crucial fumbles, poor tackling, erratic special-teams coverage and botched assignments Sunday night led to a 28-17 setback to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Soldier Field.
Rookie coach Bill Cowher earned his first big-league triumph in three exhibition outings as the successor to the legendary Chuck Noll.
With a deadline to trim the roster from 76 to 60 players by Tuesday, several Bears are destined to lose their jobs.
The Bears wind up the preseason Friday night in Dallas, after which 13 more names will be lopped from the roster.
"We didn't do some things as well as we would have liked to," said coach Mike Ditka. "But I thought the play in the first half was very good. And that's the group we're going to play with. We just have to go from there. "It's hard to have a lot of continuity when you have that many people playing. But we should have played a little better in the second half.
"When you get two big turnovers like we did (fumbles by backup quarterbacks Peter Tom Willis and Will Furrer) . . . those were crucial turnovers. And that kind of put them back in the game."
Despite his impressive career credentials, running back Neal Anderson seemed to be auditioning for a job after reports that his name had surfaced as a trade possibility. Anderson carried the ball 10 times, all in the first half, for only 23 yards.
"Neal looked OK," said Ditka. "It's not a matter of who I'm committed to. All my commitment is to the Chicago Bears to put the best football team on the field. That's all.
"If Neal is the best halfback, he'll be there. If he's not, somebody else will be there, that's all."
Anderson, who was hampered by a hamstring injury last season, has had a tense relationship with Ditka since he tried to play injured last year.
"I feel healthy," said Anderson, a four-time Pro Bowler. "The hamstring feels real good. And I'm in great condition."
Anderson and Brad Muster keyed a 79-yard drive on the Bears' first possession. Anderson carried three times for 14 yards and Muster had two for 30, including a 27-yard TD burst on a third-and-2 situation. Kevin Butler converted for a 7-0 lead with 9 minutes 6 seconds left in the first quarter.
Muster left the game in the first half when his back stiffened. He later said his leaving was just "a precautionary measure."
"You can see how much we need Brad on the field," said Ditka. "He's a heck of a football player. The dropoff (in backup talent) is considerable."
The opening drive included a 21-yard pass from Jim Harbaugh to tight end Keith Jennings. Harbaugh completed his first eight passes.
Led by quarterback Bubby Brister, the Steelers tied the game 7-7 with an 88-yard drive capped by a 1-yard run by Merril Hoge.
The Bears regained the lead 14-7 just before halftime on an 11-yard pass from Harbaugh to Eric Wright. An apparent 1-yard TD pass to tight end Kelly Blackwell was nullified when Anderson was nailed for offensive pass interference.
The Los Angeles Rams, in need of a running back, have talked to the Bears about Anderson.
"That (trade report) did not come from the Bears," said Ditka on WGN Radio. "We talked to some other teams about different players over the period of the off-season. Neal's name was mentioned by a couple of ballclubs."
After the game, Anderson said he had met with Bears President Michael McCaskey about the trade rumors. Anderson said he believes the talks have subsided.
Harbaugh completed 12 of 13 passes for 143 yards and one touchdown in his first-half stint. Willis started the second half.
Tom Waddle, Wright and Glen Kozlowski each had three receptions.
Butler booted a 33-yard field goal with 9:02 left in the third period to give the Bears a 17-7 advantage. A fumble recovery by Eric Kumerow set up the Bears' 26-yard drive.
The Steelers pulled to within 17-14 when quarterback Neil O'Donnell (8 of 14 for 98 yards and two TDs) passed 11 yards to Jeff Graham in the third quarter.
Willis had been sacked before fumbling into the hands of Levon Kirkland to set up the Steelers' score.
"The majority of the turnovers we've had in the first three games have come at the quarterback position," said Ditka. "You don't have to win every game at quarterback, but you certainly don't want to beat yourself."
Pittsburgh took a 21-17 lead on a 1-yard run by Leroy Thompson in the fourth period. A 31-yard reverse by Dwight Stone set up the score.
Furrer took over at quarterback for the Bears with 10:10 remaining. Darren Lewis and James Rouse combined for 23 yards on two carries before Furrer scrambled out of the pocket and gained 10 yards. But the Steelers' Joel Steed forced a fumble and Kirkland made his second recovery to quell the rally.
Furrer finished the night 6 of 12 for 66 yards.
"I like Will; he has a lot of poise out there," said Ditka. "He ran with the ball and then he forgot to put it away."
O'Donnell passed 11 yards to tight end Adrian Cooper to cap a 68-yard Steelers drive for a 28-17 lead with 3:25 left.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun