Unwittingly, the Bears may be on their way to solving a frustrating problem of recent years-peaking too soon.
The preseason seldom portends a National Football League team's fortune for September through January.
But the manner of the Bears' third straight preseason loss gives reason for mild concern.
Are they on pace to answer the bell in the regular-season opener Sept. 6 against the Detroit Lions? Not to mention maintaining momentum through December?
Crucial fumbles, poor tackling, erratic special-teams coverage and botched assignments Sunday night led to a 28-17 setback to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Soldier Field.
Rookie coach Bill Cowher earned his first big-league triumph in three exhibition outings as the successor to the legendary Chuck Noll.
With a deadline to trim the roster from 76 to 60 players by Tuesday, several Bears are destined to lose their jobs.
The Bears wind up the preseason Friday night in Dallas, after which 13 more names will be lopped from the roster.
"We didn't do some things as well as we would have liked to," said coach Mike Ditka. "But I thought the play in the first half was very good. And that's the group we're going to play with. We just have to go from there. "It's hard to have a lot of continuity when you have that many people playing. But we should have played a little better in the second half.
"When you get two big turnovers like we did (fumbles by backup quarterbacks Peter Tom Willis and Will Furrer) . . . those were crucial turnovers. And that kind of put them back in the game."
Despite his impressive career credentials, running back Neal Anderson seemed to be auditioning for a job after reports that his name had surfaced as a trade possibility. Anderson carried the ball 10 times, all in the first half, for only 23 yards.
"Neal looked OK," said Ditka. "It's not a matter of who I'm committed to. All my commitment is to the Chicago Bears to put the best football team on the field. That's all.
"If Neal is the best halfback, he'll be there. If he's not, somebody else will be there, that's all."
Anderson, who was hampered by a hamstring injury last season, has had a tense relationship with Ditka since he tried to play injured last year.
"I feel healthy," said Anderson, a four-time Pro Bowler. "The hamstring feels real good. And I'm in great condition."
Anderson and Brad Muster keyed a 79-yard drive on the Bears' first possession. Anderson carried three times for 14 yards and Muster had two for 30, including a 27-yard TD burst on a third-and-2 situation. Kevin Butler converted for a 7-0 lead with 9 minutes 6 seconds left in the first quarter.
Muster left the game in the first half when his back stiffened. He later said his leaving was just "a precautionary measure."
"You can see how much we need Brad on the field," said Ditka. "He's a heck of a football player. The dropoff (in backup talent) is considerable."
The opening drive included a 21-yard pass from Jim Harbaugh to tight end Keith Jennings. Harbaugh completed his first eight passes.
steelers 28, bears 17