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Bengals provide Bears open challenge in Week 1

Updated: October 8, 2013 6:13AM



The Bears sure could use a palooka.

The team’s season opener has enough firsts — Marc Trestman’s regular-season coaching debut, two new coordinators, two rookie starting offensive linemen and a defense playing without Brian Urlacher for the first time since Bill Clinton was president — to cause uncertainty on its own.

But here come the Bengals, nonetheless.

“I think Cincinnati is a team that definitely can make the Super Bowl,” defensive end Corey Wootton said after practice Friday at Halas Hall.

The Bengals have made the playoffs in two consecutive years and three of four. They’re a trendy pick to win a postseason game — if not more — for the first time since 1990.

Their defense allowed 20 points per game last season, eighth-fewest in the NFL. Its 51 sacks was only one off the league lead.

“Yeah, we sure wish we could play a team that wasn’t quite as good up front,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said of the unit that features star defensive tackle Geno Atkins, newly signed linebacker James Harrison and others. “But, you know what, it’s a good challenge. It’s a good opportunity for the guys to see where they are.”

Reality will test the Bears on Sunday.

It was only the preseason, sure, but the Bears spent August playing teams that most wise guys predict won’t see the Super Bowl with binoculars. Here’s the list of those inglorious foes: Oakland Raiders (300-1 odds to win the Super Bowl); Cleveland Browns (100-1); San ­Diego Chargers (85-1) and Carolina Panthers (60-1).

The Bengals are 30-1; the Bears 25-1.

“You go out there and get a nice little test early, rather than, I wouldn’t wanna say a pushover, but a team you’re supposed to beat,” defensive tackle Henry Melton said. “It’s better than you getting a big head and feeling you’re better than what you are.

“You get some good perspective on where you are when you play a team of that caliber.”

It’s an interesting hypothetical: Would the Bears rather debut their new schemes against a cupcake or a potential playoff team?

“I’m excited to go against some really good competition,” tight end Martellus Bennett said. “I think the best comes out of you when you play against the best.”

The Bears seem more concerned about themselves than their opponent — “That’s what we can control, and that’s really where our focus is,” Trestman said — and might have an edge because no one has seen the new offensive attack in a regular-season game.

“There’s not a lot of tape on us, and they’re a really good defense,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “So it should be a good matchup.”

And a good test.

“It’s going to be a growing process throughout the year,” Kromer said. “Hopefully we’re better in Week 2. And Week 16 we’re better than in Week 15.

“We’re just going to continue to work at it, and evaluate as we go, and correct as we go.”

Win or lose, Sunday will be a measure of where the Bears are at the moment.

“I just want to see how everyone meshes,” left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. “I just want us to go out there and play hard and be on the same page as much as we possibly can. Each game has a different identity. We have to go into this being open and knowing that this is not going to be as pretty as we want it to be at all times.

“But as long as we keep fighting, keep staying together, we’ll be just fine.”

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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