The Browns are facing the Chicago Bears in the preseason finale for both teams tonight at Soldier Field. Below is our game day blog. It will be updated at the end of each quarter.
End 4Q: Browns 18, Bears 16
The Browns turned a lame-duck preseason game into a pretty entertaining three hours of football. Down 16-9, Hoyer found tight end Dan Gronkowski, who made a terrific catch in traffic, for a 14-yard touchdown with 6:47 to go. The Browns went for two and the lead but Hoyer’s attempt to Josh Cooper was batted away. A minute later rookie defensive end Armonty Bryant forced a fumble that L.J. Fort recovered in Bears territory. That led to a Spencer Lanning 40-yard field goal with 3:15 remaining, giving the Browns an 18-16 lead. The Bears would drive into Browns territory but Gould missed a 57-yard field goal with just over a minute remaining.
End 3Q: Bears 13, Browns 9
Linebacker James-Michael Johnson is fighting for a roster spot and came away with the biggest play of the night, although he got some help. A Jordan Palmer pass went off the hands of tight end Fendi Onobun and right to Johnson, who returned the interception 23 yards for a touchdown. The Browns then went for two but Cook was stuffed on a run to the inside. Fullback Brad Smelley left the game with a shoulder injury and is not expected to return. After having two catches late in the second quarter, David Nelson had two slips on routes in the third quarter. He had a third target but was badly overthrown by Hoyer.
End 2Q: Bears 10, Browns 3
Wide receiver David Nelson made it onto the field and received five targets in the second quarter. The first pass to Nelson fell incomplete after he didn’t look up in time to see the throw. Nelson then caught a short pass but later dropped a would-be first down on third-and-2. The Browns went for it on fourth-and-2 and would have converted it (Josh Cooper caught a pass from Hoyer) but that play was wiped out by an illegal formation penalty on Kellen Davis. Nelson caught two more passes during the Browns’ scoring drive just before the half. He has three catches for 41 yards. The Bears took a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter with a 16-play, 69-yard drive capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Palmer to Joe Anderson, who beat Browns cornerback Abdul Kanneh in the end zone. With 58 seconds remaining Hoyer led the Browns into Chicago territory on passes to Nelson, Cooper Brad Smelley and Nelson again to allow a 32-yard field goal by Lanning as time expired in the first half.
End 1Q: Bears 3, Browns 0
Brian Hoyer received the start for the Browns while Jason Campbell deals with flu-like symptoms. Hoyer’s first pass couldn’t have been much better (he hit Josh Gordon, who broke wide open thanks to a blown coverage, for 47 yards on the first offensive play of the game) and his second couldn’t have been much worse (a second pass intended for Gordon was picked off by Demontre Hurst). The Bears turned that interception into a Robbie Gould 52-yard field goal with 10:26 left in the quarter. Gordon later had a 30-yard reception and has two catches for 77 yards already in the game. Brandon Jackson hasn’t done much so far with -4 yards on three carries. Quentin Groves recorded a sack despite being held on the play and has a couple of tackles.
Top storylines: 1. Third-string QB in spotlight: Browns third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer will start against the Bears in the preseason finale at 8 tonight at Soldier Field, the team announced this evening. Backup quarterback Jason Campbell was expected start in place of Brandon Weeden, who will rest tonight like almost all of the Browns’ starters. But Campbell has flu-like symptoms and plans to sit out. Campbell missed practice Tuesday with the illness. Campbell, though, will be available to play tonight if needed, a team spokesman said. Like the Browns, the Bears will rest almost all of their starters tonight, including quarterback Jay Cutler. 2. Some key players will appear: Browns coach Rob Chudzinski will play a handful of significant contributors, including the team’s No. 1 wide receiver, Josh Gordon, who will miss the first two regular-season games while serving a suspension from the NFL for violating its substance-abuse policy. Other key players who are expected to play are wide receiver Travis Benjamin, the team’s top punt returner, right guard Oniel Cousins, whom Chudzinski said has the edge to start when the regular season begins, right defensive end Billy Winn and right outside linebacker Quentin Groves. 3. Debuting with new team: Wide receiver David Nelson will make his debut with the Browns after fighting back from knee injuries for the past year. As a member of the Buffalo Bills, Nelson suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last year during the season opener Sept. 9 against the New York Jets and hasn’t played in a game since. He signed a one-year deal with the Browns in April but missed most of training camp and the first three preseason games after suffering a bone bruise in his surgically repaired knee. 4. Punters to battle for job: Spencer Lanning and Colton Schmidt will share punting duties against the Bears as they battle for a job. Schmidt is expected to hold for all place kicks and handle all kickoffs. Kicker Shayne Graham is in line to handle field goals and extra points. The Browns were awarded Schmidt off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday. 5. Bubble boys fighting for professional lives: With the vast majority of the starters sitting out, backups vying for roster spots will take center stage. All NFL teams are required to trim their rosters to 53 players by 6 p.m. Saturday. The Browns have 75 players. Some players who are seemingly on the roster bubble include inside linebackers Tank Carder, James-Michael Johnson and Justin Staples, defensive end Brian Sanford, outside linebacker Justin Cole, wide receiver Josh Cooper, fullback/tight end Brad Smelley and running backs Miguel Maysonet and Jamaine Cook.
Inactives: Browns – Weeden, kicker Brandon Bogotay, wide receiver Davone Bess, wide receiver Greg Little, cornerbacks Chris Owens, Buster Skrine and Joe Haden, fullback Chris Ogbonnaya, free safety Jamoris Slaughter, running back Trent Richardson, free safety Tashaun Gipson, strong safety T.J. Ward, outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, inside linebackers D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson, center Alex Mack, guards Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao, nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin, right offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz, left offensive tackle Joe Thomas, left guard John Greco, tight ends Gary Barnidge and Jordan Cameron, wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt, defensive end Desmond Bryant, nose tackle Phil Taylor and outside linebacker Paul Kruger.
Lineup changes: Browns – Offense: Hoyer will start at quarterback in place of Weeden and Campbell; Brandon Jackson at running back for Richardson; Travis Benjamin at wide receiver for Little; Brad Smelley at fullback for Ogbonnaya; Kellen Davis at tight end for Cameron and Barnidge; Rashad Butler at left tackle for Thomas; Caylin Hauptmann at left guard for Greco; Jarrod Shaw at center for Mack; Martin Wallace at right tackle for Schwartz; and Oniel Cousins at right guard for Pinkston and Lauvao. Note: Starting wide receiver Josh Gordon will start as expected. Defense: Ishmaa’ily Kitchen will start at nose tackle in place of Taylor; Billy Winn at right defensive end for Bryant; John Hughes at left defensive end for Rubin; Justin Cole and Quentin Groves at outside linebacker for Kruger and Sheard; Akeem Auguste at right cornerback for Skrine/Owens; Leon McFadden at left cornerback for Haden; Johnson Bademosi at free safety for Gipson and Josh Aubrey at strong safety for Ward.
Links to preview stories via Ohio.com: 1. Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden and the majority of the starters will rest in the preseason finale. 2. Players on Browns’ roster bubble eager to make a case for themselves in preseason finale.