FOXBORO, Mass.—After Bears wide receiver David Terrell caught a key 18-yard pass on a crossing route that converted a third down in the first quarter of Wednesday night's preseason finale against the Patriots, he placed the ball gently on the turf.
Then Terrell pulled back his hands demonstrably and looked around to ensure everyone saw him, as if to make a point that there would be none of his antics to analyze this week.
Terrell had punted the ball into the stands after an apparent TD catch Friday night at Arizona, prompting TV commentator Mike Ditka to call him "a wacko" and coach Dick Jauron to chew him out on the sideline. That harsh reaction crossed Terrell's mind almost as soon as he crossed the first-down marker.
"I just thought, I'm not doing anything stupid this time," he said.
Just maybe Terrell learned a lesson.
The Bears learned a few things themselves in a 38-23 loss at Gillette Stadium, enough to make them feel better about the season opener against San Francisco only 10 days away.
The No. 1 offense operated with more consistency, the running backs ran with more authority and the starting defense tackled with as much certainty as it had in any exhibition game. The effort didn't answer all the questions that still nag the Bears, but it did give them more to build on leaving New England than they had Friday night exiting Arizona.
"We still have to fix a few things here and there," wide receiver Marty Booker said, "but this was a good tuneup for our first group."
The starting offense's final drive of the preseason, a 10-play, 61-yard scoring march that ate up 6 minutes 26 seconds of the first quarter, allowed the Bears to take away some momentum. On the drive, the Bears converted three critical third downs: once with Kordell Stewart's scramble, once on Terrell's catch and once on a nifty 3-yard TD loft to Booker.
"The man's hands are so big, so why not give him an opportunity to go up for the ball?" Stewart said.
That was the final snap for Stewart and Co. until San Francisco, though running backs Anthony Thomas and Adrian Peterson got extra work in the second quarter behind the second offensive line.
Thomas carried seven times for 37 yards, cutting more sharply and showing his best burst of the training camp. Peterson wiggled his way to 26 yards on six carries and provided a change-of-pace style that Jauron seeks. Seventeen of the Bears' 27 plays in the first half were runs, by design.
"We took three games and threw the ball all over the place to get a feel for Kordell," Jauron said. "We wanted to come out and try to run the ball a little bit early against a team that we think is a very good football team."
The Patriots were a very good football team playing without one of its better parts. Defensive tackle Ted Washington, traded from the Bears last week, didn't dress. Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Washington returned to Chicago with his blessing to attend to some personal business.
Another ex-Bear, Patriots outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, renewed acquaintances quickly and loudly by smacking Stewart six yards in the backfield on the first series. Colvin made the hit before Stewart could hand off to Thomas.
The defensive ex-teammates Colvin left behind in Chicago called it a night with 11:34 left in the second quarter. An eight-play TD drive, culminating with an 8-yard TD pass from Tom Brady to Troy Brown on third down, will bother coordinator Greg Blache, but overall Blache saw less to complain about this week against the no-huddle Patriots.
Cornerbacks R.W. McQuarters and rookie Charles Tillman, starting for the injured Jerry Azumah, kept everything in front of them and wrapped up Patriots' receivers with sure tackles.
"I think it was a successful preseason," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We got through it healthy, and that's the main thing."
The No. 2 defense gave up an 18-play, 71-yard scoring drive that lasted 9:43, capped by Adam Vinatieri's 31-yard field goal to tie the score 10-10.
New England took a 17-10 lead in the third quarter when Leonard Myers returned Rabih Abdullah's fumble 93 yards for a TD. The fumble was Abdullah's second in four exhibition games, a factor when considering his roster status.
One guy who Jauron confirmed afterward had made the roster, wide receiver Ahmad Merritt, brought the Bears back with a 22-yard scoring catch from Rex Grossman in the third quarter.
A rookie at the other end of the spectrum, undrafted free-agent free safety Cameron Worrell, continued a surprising preseason with a 30-yard fumble return for a TD.