The Bears' 20-19 victory over the Jaguars in Thursday night's exhibition game added to the evidence that the Bears' passing attack can pick up where it left off last season. Defensively, the climb from the bottom has been slow but evident.
Here we break down all three phases from the victory:
Reason for optimism: The new and improving Jay Cutler is confident in the offense, calm in the pocket and decisive when he needs to be.
Cutler showed all of that on the Bears' 10-play, 85-yard touchdown drive in the first half. Sure, some of the old Cutler agitation surfaced after a miscommunication with receiver Eric Weems led to a third-and-10 incompletion early in the second quarter. But an illegal use of the hands penalty against Jaguars defensive end Andre Branch extended the Bears' first scoring drive.
And Cutler ultimately capped the march with a 4-yard strike to Brandon Marshall, a throw he made after his line provided nearly six seconds of full protection.
"The buzzer had gone off seconds (earlier)," coach Marc Trestman said. "And again, Jay moved in the pocket. But he felt comfortable enough to stay in and allow Brandon to get open."
That comfort is a big, big deal right now. On 22 exhibition passing plays, Cutler has yet to be sacked and barely has been pressured. That's why he has 16 completions, including three for touchdowns.
Reason for concern: Matt Forte's exhibition stat line bears watching — seven carries, minus-7 yards. That's obviously too small of a sample size to cause any premature August panic, especially for a back who rushed for a career-best 1,339 yards on 289 attempts last season.
But establishing a running game certainly will be a priority Friday against the Seahawks in the Bears' last major exhibition test. If you lost track, the Super Bowl champions finished last season as the NFL's No. 1 defense in total yards allowed.
Worth discussing: Poor Zach Miller. The veteran tight end missed most of 2011 and all of the 2012 and 2013 seasons with injuries, then appeared to be ready for a 2014 breakthrough with the Bears.
In the exhibition opener, he caught six balls for 68 yards with two touchdowns. But in the first half against the Jaguars, Miller suffered significant ligament damage in his left foot and was placed on season-ending injured reserve Friday. That removes him from the backup tight end competition, which now seems to be a two-man battle between Dante Rosario and Matthew Mulligan.
Rosario missed Thursday's game with a calf injury.
Reason for optimism: In addition to the first-string defensive line's second consecutive disruptive effort, the Bears' young linebackers rebounded well from a lackluster exhibition debut last week.
Jon Bostic was more comfortable against the Jaguars because he mostly played middle linebacker, the position he manned as a rookie last season. Against the Eagles on Aug. 8, he played on the weak side more than accustomed.
"I could play a lot faster," Bostic said Thursday. "That was my main thing — just play fast, don't think and have fun. Last week I was thinking a bit more."
Trestman believed McClellin moved more naturally in pursuit. He attributed that to McClellin gradually getting more accustomed to playing linebacker. It was, after all, only his second game playing the position in the NFL.
Reason for concern: The first-string defense conceded a first down on 3 of 5 third-down attempts, and that does not include the automatic first down awarded on third-and-13 because of cornerback Kelvin Hayden's illegal contact penalty.