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Game day blog: Browns vs. Bears (preseason game No. 4)

By Nate Ulrich Published: August 30, 2012

The Browns fell 28-20 to the visiting Chicago Bears in the preseason finale Thursday night.

Here's the game story:

CLEVELAND: With starting quarterback Brandon Weeden resting on the sideline Thursday night during the preseason finale, backups Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace entered the spotlight in the Browns’ 28-20 loss to the Chicago Bears.

One of them probably made his final appearance in a Browns uniform.

Incoming owner Jimmy Haslam III spent more than 20 minutes talking to Browns General Manager Tom Heckert on the sideline during pregame warm-ups. It’s a safe bet the team’s plans for cut day were a topic of conversation. NFL teams are required to trim their 75-man rosters to 53 players by 9 tonight, and several Browns players were fighting for a handful of undecided roster spots in the fourth and final exhibition game.

Of course, the quarterback situation is on everyone’s mind.

“I do know what I want to do,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “I’m just not telling you.

“I’m gonna evaluate everything. This game will fall into everything that’s gone on to this point, and we’ll find out.”

Shurmur seems as if he wants to keep Thaddeus Lewis as a developmental third-string quarterback, and if that decision is made, there won’t be enough room for both McCoy, the incumbent starter who was replaced by Weeden, and Wallace.

During a news conference Sunday, Shurmur praised McCoy for improving in his second year in the West Coast offense and for handling the quarterback competition in a professional manner. Shurmur sounded as if he’s leaning toward making McCoy the No. 2 quarterback, though the possibility of trading him can’t be ruled out, either.

“I wouldn't say I'm worried,” McCoy said. “My biggest thing is I trust in the Lord for everything I do. I'm confident in that. Wherever He leads me, if He has me here or somewhere else, I'll be fine.

“I feel confident in my myself and my ability and how much I've improved, and I also trust in my faith that God has a plan. And wherever that is, I know it will be the right place.”

If the Browns trade McCoy, 25, Wallace would obviously stick around. If they don’t, Wallace, 32, could be cut tonight.

“This isn’t my first rodeo,” Wallace said. “I felt like I’ve done all I’ve can. Whatever decision is made is made.

“Hopefully [I’ll] get the opportunity to come back with you guys and be here with this team ‘cause obviously we’re doing some good things, bringing a lot of young talent. I feel like we’re moving in the right direction.”

McCoy started Thursday along with most of the Browns’ backups. Wide receiver Greg Little, running back Montario Hardesty and fullback Owen Marecic were the only regulars from the first-team offense who started.

McCoy played the entire first quarter and turned in a dud of a performance in an otherwise stellar preseason. McCoy completed two-of-five passes for 16 yards with an interception and a passer rating of 9.2. He finished the preseason 20-of-29 for 250 yards and a touchdown with an interception and a rating of 92.6.

“I think all three quarterbacks played like backups tonight,” Shurmur said. “I’ll just leave it at that.

“I’m more pleased this year with our quarterback situation than I was a year ago, and I think you can’t look at one outing and let that paint the picture. I think I’ve seen all the quarterbacks on this roster whether it be in practice or games or places I’ve been before do good stuff. So I feel better about our quarterback situation, much better, this year than I did a year ago.”

The Browns went three-and-out during their opening possession, and McCoy threw an interception on their next series. His pass intended for wide receiver Jordan Norwood, who ran a corner route, sailed too high, and Bears safety Jeremy Jones picked it off.

The next play, Bears quarterback Josh McCown, who started in place of Jay Cutler, connected with wide receiver Dan Sanzenbacher for a 30-yard touchdown. Sanzenbacher beat the coverage of Browns rookie cornerback Trevin Wade during the play, which stood after a replay review. Robbie Gould missed a 35-yard field goal to end the Bears’ opening drive, but he made the extra-point kick to give the Bears a 7-0 lead with 7:49 left in the first quarter.

Wallace took control in the second quarter and completed three-of-four passes for 36 yards and a touchdown to finish with a rating of 141.7. His 2-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Rod Windsor in the back of the end zone helped trim the Browns’ halftime deficit to 14-7. Wallace finished the preseason 16-of-27 for 195 yards and two touchdowns with an interception and a rating of 90.8.

In another backfield battle, running back Brandon Jackson stood out. He finished with seven carries for 48 yards (6.9 average), and Hardesty had six carries for 24 yards (4.0 average).
Undrafted rookie running back Adonis Thomas and Lewis filled in during the second half. One of Lewis’ passes deflected off rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon, was intercepted by cornerback Greg McCoy and returned 15 yards for a touchdown with 4:56 left in the third quarter.

Shortly later, the Browns allowed their second blocked punt of the preseason. Patrick Trahan pushed Windsor into punter Reggie Hodges’ line of fire, the ball hit Windsor and Brittan Golden returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.

In the fourth quarter, Thomas broke off a 64-yard run in the fourth quarter and rushed for a 1-yard touchdown with 10:09 left in the fourth quarter. Phil Dawson’s 42-yard field goal, his second successful attempt, trimmed the Bears’ lead to 28-20 with 4:58 left.

The Browns didn’t escape the preseason finale unscathed. Shurmur said Lewis suffered a sprained thumb, but Lewis said he’s fine.

“I'm good to go,” Lewis said.

Linebackers James-Michael Johnson and Benjamin Jacobs left the game with injuries. Johnson’s X-rays came back negative, Shurmur said. Jacobs said he had cramps.

Here's the notebook (By Beacon Journal sports writers Ryan Lewis and Nate Ulrich):

CLEVELAND: The Browns might have received another blow to an already-thin position during their final preseason game against the visiting Chicago Bears on Thursday night.

Rookie strongside linebacker James-Michael Johnson, a fourth-round draft pick who was set to fill in for Scott Fujita during his three-game suspension, injured his left oblique while tackling Bears fullback Tyler Clutts with 6:15 remaining in the second quarter.

Johnson gingerly walked off the field and returned less than a minute later, only to come up limping after one play. With 4:19 left in the second quarter, Johnson walked to the locker room with a member of the team’s medical staff. He did not return.

Browns coach Pat Shurmur said Johnson’s X-rays came back negative.

“I’m not sure he’s hurt,” Shurmur said. “He’s dealing with something. We’ll see, but that happens in games quite a bit.”

Shurmur gave most of his starters the night off because he wants them healthy for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. Johnson was the only exception on defense.

The NFL suspended Fujita for the first three games of the season for his alleged role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal. Fujita is fighting the suspension in federal court.
The Browns don’t have a strongside linebacker on their depth chart behind Fujita and Johnson. The Browns took a big hit at the position on Aug. 4, when starting weakside linebacker Chris Gocong suffered a season-ending torn Achilles’ tendon. Kaluka Maiava is in line to start in place of Gocong.

Roster activity

Defensive ends Marcus Benard and Auston English and undrafted rookie cornerback Antwuan Reed cleared waivers and are now on the Browns’ injured reserve. The Browns waived/injured all three of them Monday.

Doing homework

Members of the Browns’ personnel department attended the game between the New York Jets and the Eagles on Thursday, Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com reported. The Eagles are loaded with defensive linemen and might waive one who would interest the Browns.

New rules

On the eve of cut day, the NFL Players Association approved a rule change that will allow each team to designate one player who may return from injured reserve during the season instead of sitting out the entire year.

A player placed on IR after 4 p.m. Tuesday will be eligible to return to practice after spending at least six weeks on the list. He will be eligible to return to the active roster after eight weeks. Teams that want to take advantage of the new rule must designate a specific player for return upon moving him to IR.

Starting next year, only those placed on IR after teams trim their rosters to 53 players will be eligible to return. But because the rule was adopted after the mandatory cut to 75 players on Monday, an exception is being made this year only. Teams are allowed to put one player who was placed on IR since the start of training camp back on their active roster by 9 p.m. Friday. They may then place him on IR Tuesday under the new designation.

It remains to be seen whether the Browns will take advantage of the new rule. If they wanted to do so, they certainly have some injured players to choose from.

Tight end Benjamin Watson missed most of training camp and all four preseason games with an undisclosed injury. Cornerback Dimitri Patterson (right ankle) and defensive tackle Scott Paxson (right knee) have been sidelined since the Aug. 10 preseason opener against the Detroit Lions. Strong safety Ray Ventrone (right hamstring) has been out since Aug. 19, and running back Chris Ogbonnaya (left ankle) has been sidelined since Aug. 20.

Defensive tackle Phil Taylor, who had surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle in May, is not eligible for the new rules because he is already on the physically unable to perform list. He must miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season before becoming eligible to return.

The players’ union also approved another change. Starting this season, the trading deadline will be pushed back from Oct. 16, the Tuesday after Week 6, to Oct. 30, the Tuesday after Week 8.

Game action

End 4Q: Bears 28, Browns 20

The Browns cut Chicago’s deficit early in the quarter, thanks in large part to Adonis Thomas’ 64-yard run to start the drive. Thomas had no where to go, ran into his own lineman, bounced outside and found plenty of space but was caught from behind at the 20-yard line. On 3rd and 9, Lewis couldn’t find an open receiver but found room in front of him and scrambled all the way to the 1-yard line. Thomas then capped the drive with a 1-yard tumble over the pile with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game. Later on, Travis Benjamin fumbled a punt near midfield that was recovered by Chicago. Lewis finished the game 4-9 for 56 yards. Dawson added a 42-yard field goal with 5:02 remaining. Linebacker Benjamin Jacobs went down on a kickoff and walked off the field. 

End 3Q: Bears 28, Browns 10 – Chicago scored twice in the third quarter, and not on routine plays of any kind. With just under five minutes remaining in the quarter, a throw from Thaddeus Lewis to Josh Gordon was first tipped in the air. Then it appeared to bounce off of Gordon’s leg, and Bears cornerback Greg McCoy snagged it out of the air and returned the INT 15 yards for a score. Moments later on a punt, wide receiver Rod Windsor was pushed back into the path of Reggie Hodges’ swinging foot by Bears line backer Patrick Trahan, inadvertently blocking the kick. Wide receiver Brittan Golden picked up the loose ball and returned that for a touchdown as well. The Browns added a 39-yard field goal from Phil Dawson following Tashaun Gipson’s interception. Gipson ran over the top of Sanzenbacher and intercepted an overthrow from McCown. 

End 2Q: Bears 14, Browns 7 – The Browns offense found some life in the second quarter behind the entrances of quarterback Seneca Wallace and running back Brandon Jackson. Wallace found receiver Josh Cribbs for a 22-yard play to set up the drive and Jackson gained 36 yards on five carries. Following a 20-yard scramble and a few productive runs from Jackson, Wallace found wide receiver Rod Windsor running along the back of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown pass with 41 seconds left in the half. The pass capped an 8-play, 80-yard drive. The Bears had previously extended their lead on McCown’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Armando Allen, who beat safety David Sims on a slant. Cornerback James Dockery, who is on the bubble as the team’s sixth corner, had a rough quarter. Dockery gave up a few pass plays and was called for two pass interference calls, one of which set up Chicago at the Browns’ 10-yard line. 

End 1Q: Bears 7, Browns 0 -- Quarterback Colt McCoy played the entire first quarter surrounded with mostly second-stringers against the Bears’ second unit. He went 2-of-5 for 16 yards with an interception. McCoy tried to find Jordan Norwood on a corner route on third and 11 but overthrew him and instead found Bears safety Jeramy Jones. Running back Montario Hardesty carried the ball six times for 24 yards, 14 of those coming on one run. Brandon Jackson carried the ball once on third and long, gaining 11 yards on a draw play. Wide receiver Greg Little and fullback Owen Marecic were the only other offensive regulars to start the game. The Bears took a 7-0 lead on Josh McCown’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Dane Sanzenbacher on the subsequent play after McCoy’s interception with 6:15 to go in the quarter. Sanzenbacher beat Trevin Wade on the play. Defensive lineman Kiante Tripp exited the game with 9:30 remaining in the first quarter after taking a hard hit on a screen play. Tripp re-entered to begin the second quarter.

Pregame notes 

Top storylines: 1. With rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and most of the Browns’ other starters taking the night off, the backups will take center stage in the preseason finale. Colt McCoy will start, and fellow quarterback Seneca Wallace will play, too. Will it be the last time one of them appears in a Browns uniform? All 32 NFL teams must trim their 75-man rosters to 53 players by 9 p.m. Friday, and there won’t be enough room for both McCoy and Wallace if the Browns choose to keep Thaddeus Lewis as their developmental No. 3 quarterback. 2. Several players vying for one of the Browns’ final roster spots will get one last audition tonight. Strong safeties David Sims and Usama Young, fullback Brad Smelley, wide receivers Jordan Norwood and Josh Cooper, defensive linemen Brian Sanford, Kiante Tripp, Brian Schaefering and Ronnie Cameron, linebackers Craig Robertson and L.J. Fort and offensive linemen Jarrod Shaw and Dominic Alford are some of the Browns’ players who appear to be on the roster bubble. 3. Avoiding injuries is one of the keys to a successful preseason. The Browns have been plagued by injuries thus far and certainly hope to make it out of the fourth and final exhibition game unscathed.

Preview stories via Ohio.com: 1. Several Browns players hope to strengthen their cases for making the 53-man roster with strong performances in the preseason finale. 2. My list of the top 10 Browns players to watch tonight.

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