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Bears’ offense improves, but misses the points in loss to Titans

NASHVILLE TN - AUGUST 27:  Matt Forte #22 Chicago Bears blocks JasMcCourty #30 Tennessee Titans as quarterback Jay Cutler

NASHVILLE, TN - AUGUST 27: Matt Forte #22 of the Chicago Bears blocks Jason McCourty #30 of the Tennessee Titans as quarterback Jay Cutler #6 drops back to throw during a preseason game at LP Field on August 27, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\122323706.jpg

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Updated: August 28, 2011 2:00AM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Bears’ starting offense clicked Saturday night, with the line keeping quarterback Jay Cutler clean, running back Matt Forte picking up healthy yardage on the ground and receivers gashing the Tennessee Titans through the air.

By halftime, the Bears had racked up 239 net offensive yards and converted five of seven third downs.

Yet something was missing: the points.

They led only 10-7 at halftime in a game they would lose 14-13 at LP Field.

‘‘We moved the ball well, and we did some good things,’’ receiver Earl Bennett said, ‘‘but we wanted to put up more points than we did.’’

The Bears were still up 10-7 midway through the third quarter, when the offensive and defensive starters left the game. That was meaningful, considering the debacle at New Meadowlands Stadium on Monday night in a 41-13 thumping at the hands of the New York Giants. With the exception of the starting offensive line, the Bears’ remaining units put on forgettable performances against the Giants.

Still, they’re sticking to a common theme — building toward the Sept.  11 regular-season opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

‘‘I feel it’s a step,’’ Bears starting center Roberto Garza said. ‘‘But it’s all for getting ready for the season and proving it under the lights, when it counts. We did a good job today, but there’s a lot of mistakes, and there are a lot of things we can get better at.’’

On the second play of the game, after he’d hauled in his first catch of the preseason for 17 yards, receiver Roy Williams tipped the ball and watched Titans safety Michael Griffin intercept it.

‘‘That’s my fault,’’ Williams said. ‘‘I’ve still got to catch that one, but I felt like there should have been a flag somewhere in there. But this is the NFL, so we got past that one, and you just go to the next play.’’

The Bears did just that.

The defense held its ground, not allowing a first down and forcing the Titans to settle for a 51-yard field goal, which usually-steady kicker Rob Bironas pushed wide right.

Then the Bears’ offense rebounded with its most impressive drive of the preseason, a 12-play, 59-yard drive that featured explosive runs and catches. Forte had seven runs for 21 yards, including a three-yard touchdown, while receivers Bennett, Devin Hester and rookie Dane Sanzenbacher converted third downs.

‘‘The Bears came out and really tried to move the ball,’’ Griffin said. ‘‘Coming off a bad loss, we knew they were going to come out and try to prove something.’’

Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie also had something to prove, but he didn’t have as much success. He was moving the Bears toward a score on his opening drive, but with the ball at the Titans’ 21, Hanie’s pass for Sanzenbacher was off-target and intercepted by backup cornerback Tommie Campbell, who returned it 90 yards for a touchdown.

Hanie finished 9-for-18 for 107 yards.

The Bears’ first-half points total was even less impressive after kicker Robbie Gould missed a 29-yard field goal off the upright.

‘‘We’ve got to get points,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said at halftime. ‘‘We missed the field goal. We were moving the ball — we just have to get points.’’

Defensively, Smith said, the Bears played well — except for one drive. It was the Titans’ last drive of the first half, and they’d struggled to consistently move the ball until then. But veteran receiver Nate Washington kept finding soft spots in the Bears’ coverage and caught two passes for 40 yards.

The Titans are playing without arguably the game’s top running back, Chris Johnson, who is holding out for a new contract. But rookie Jamie Harper showed he’s a hard runner, scoring from nine yards out.

‘‘After last week, we didn’t feel like we played as hard as we should have, and I think we played harder,’’ linebacker Brian Urlacher said. ‘‘That should never be an issue with our defense.’’

In the end, the Bears’ offense accomplished a lot. Forte finished with 74 rushing yards on 17 carries (a 4.4-yard average), and Bennett shined with 89 receiving yards on six catches.

‘‘Well, we got better again,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘We left some points out there — you hate to see that — but our offensive line played better, the receivers played better, and Matt ran the ball. We’re not quite ready for the opener, but we’re getting there.’’

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