Recapping this trip: The Chicago preseason game edition

Yeah, deep dish pizza at Gino’s East was pretty awesome (Twitpic)

Last night’s preseason opener for the Broncos and Bears wasn’t pretty. They rarely are, and when teams keep their starters off the field like they did, the possibility for ugliness is even more likely.

Still, it was the debut of Peyton Manning in a Broncos uniform, his first chance to work with his new team in a game setting. Clearly, that was the highlight. Want to review?

Let’s hit on some highlights from our trip to Chicago…

— I think I’m over the jarring feeling of seeing Manning in another uniform. Took a while, but I’ve grown accustomed to it. That’s just kinda how this all is. Players change teams, with so few exceptions. That’s reality. But it was cool to look into the stands and see a ton of Colts jerseys last night, while also noting some Broncos gear in the stands. Of course, the majority of fans wore Bears stuff (and they stayed well into the third quarter), but I didn’t realize Denver fans traveled like they did. “There’s been a decent amount of them just at our practices in Denver,” said Manning of fans rocking his old Colts jersey. “It was good to see a lot of Broncos jerseys in the stands in Chicago, as well. I certainly appreciate those fans in blue, that certainly makes you feel good.”

— I wrote extensively about Manning’s return after a year away and you’ll find that on the main page of I thought it was mostly good. Not perfect, but in line with performances by other starting QBs just trying to get some work in during the preseason. What was the only troubling thing to me? The tipped passes. Two of seven attempts were tipped, which isn’t good. This either speaks to his lack of arm strength (there was no laser, rocket arm last night) or play-calling designed to get him in rhythm. It was nothing but short passes, which the Bears defense knew. They focused on getting their hands up, and it worked. If Manning doesn’t throw deep (I won’t say can’t throw deep) this may continue to plague him. Anyway, if I had to find a negative, that was it. Lots of positives, too.

— The Bears offense looked… ugly. I know it was a preseason game, they didn’t show much, Jay Cutler didn’t start, yada yada. But you have to base judgment on something, and backup QB Jason Campbell looked rough. No rhythm, nothing downfield, just not good. Campbell was 4 of 5 for 13 yards, and he was sacked. Maybe no one was open (that’s possible), but one wonders if the Bears really did solve their backup QB issue. In other news, fans booed the crap out of old backup Caleb Hanie, who was 7 of 14 for 79 yards with three nice scrambles for 23 yards. He looked better than Campbell (small sample size alert). Randomly, I thought receiver Alshon Jeffery looked nice in his two catches.

— There’s been lots of criticism about the replacement officials, and I’m sure they aren’t as good as the real refs. Duh. But last night, there wasn’t much to discuss. In my mind, there was only one disputed call: The helmet-to-helmet penalty on rookie DE Shea McClellan, which I immediately said in my mind was wrong, and I was watching from the sidelines. Turns out, based on the third angle they showed, it was right. In addition, there was a fourth-quarter interception that was challenged and then upheld. Not bad. Speaking of McClellan, really strong night rushing the passer from him. A lot to like, especially if they use him situationally.

— It was a quick, business-like trip to Chicago, but we did manage to get in a stellar food selection. On the advice of Tania Ganguli (now) from the Houston Chronicle, I went to a dive called Gino’s East for deep dish pizza. It took 45 minutes to make, which I kinda liked because you know it’s fresh, and man, was it hearty! A really smooth taste, and I’d go back. I’d say my mind wasn’t blown, though, which may make me listen to the chorus on Twitter yelling at me to go to Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s. I hear ya, guys. I hear ya.

— I think Soldier Field is up there in my mind for NFL’s coolest stadiums. It’s definitely not convenient to get to, and every time I’m forced to drive around the stadium at least one extra time. But once I get there, it’s just cool. Mostly, it’s the columns that get me. Feels like I’m walking into some sort of coliseum, as opposed to a new-fangled amusement park like a lot of the newer stadiums look like. Soldier Field is old-school, and I love it. On the other hand, I’ve been there twice, and it was a massive snow storm the first time and thunderstorms last night. Hey, maybe it’s me.

— There’s a lot to get used to in my new TV world, and I’m still learning. Note to self: Check the weather before you go to a game. It wasn’t the best feeling when I rolled up to Soldier Field in my NFL Network polo and realized two things: 1. It was pouring rain and I had no umbrella. 2. I had no jacket, and it was cold. Fail by me. Thankfully, my producer was on the case, but I need to prepare better. Still, it was fun to watch a game from the sidelines. Brought me back a decade to covering high school games for the Journal News in New York, walking the sideline at Dietz Stadium for a state quarterfinal game, sneaking my dad down to the field so we could hang out during the game. Good times.

— The weather was pretty crappy, though it didn’t sound like that contributed to the Bears holding out their stars. For Cutler, coach Lovie Smith sounded like that was the plan all along, given the birth of his child and all. Broncos coach John Fox did note, “That kinda weather was a defensive coordinator’s best friend.” Maybe for Denver’s defense, but the Bears didn’t show up. Speaking of Denver, promising showing by tall rookie Brock Osweiler, who was 4 of 7 for 38 yards with a touchdown during a night that included one drop by his tight end and one pass-interference call. Solid.

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