CHICAGO: While most of the Browns’ starters rested on the sideline Thursday night at Soldier Field, many of their less-established teammates scratched and clawed to impress coach Pat Shurmur and his assistants one last time before roster cuts.
NFL teams must trim their rosters from 80 players to 53 by 6 p.m. Saturday, so undrafted rookies such as running back Armond Smith and cornerback James Dockery, along with other players on the roster bubble, viewed the preseason finale as their last audition. The Browns suffered a 24-14 loss to the Bears, but the individual performances within the game and the subsequent evaluations by the coaches will prove to be far more important than the final score.
“This was an opportunity for a lot of young guys to play,” Shurmur said. “I think some guys did some good things, and then there were some other guys that I think will look back on this and wish they played better.”
The Browns, who finished with a record of 1-3 in the preseason, gave most of their usual starters the night off. Rookie first-string players, including defensive tackle Phil Taylor, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, wide receiver Greg Little, left guard Jason Pinkston and fullback Owen Marecic, were the among the exceptions. Wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Jordan Norwood and tight end Evan Moore were some of the other notable contributors who played.
With quarterback Seneca Wallace filling in for McCoy, the Browns’ offense got off to a pathetic start. The Browns went three-and-out during their first four possessions.
Meanwhile, the Bears built a 17-0 lead with Robbie Gould’s 22-yard field goal, wide receiver Johnny Knox’s 19-yard touchdown catch from Caleb Hanie and undrafted rookie running back Robert Hughes’ 2-yard rushing touchdown.
The Browns’ offense finally responded by finding a rhythm late in the first half. Wallace, who nearly had two of his passes picked off before halftime, orchestrated a nine-play, 74-yard drive, which was capped by Smith’s 6-yard touchdown run with 1:29 left in the first half. Phil Dawson’s successful extra-point kick trimmed the Browns’ deficit to 17-7 at halftime.
“We got points at the end of the half there,” Shurmur said. “But you kill yourself with penalties and keep drives alive, and we can’t do that.”
The Browns helped the Bears (2-2) every step of the way in the first two quarters. Dockery, who stood out by repeatedly making plays during training camp, was called for three penalties – twice for pass interference and once for illegal contact – in the first two quarters. All of the miscues occurred on third down and helped keep scoring drives alive for the Bears. One of the penalties negated an interception by Dockery.
“I try to challenge for every ball, and sometimes that can work against me,” Dockery said. “I’ve just gotta get back in the film room, work on my technique, continue to understand the game at the NFL level, clean up some things and continue to work hard to get better.”
Despite the penalties, Shurmur endorsed Dockery in his post-game news conference.
“I don’t know if it affects his roster status,” Shurmur said. “I like the way he plays, and I like the way he challenges. … He has an aggressive style, which we want in the secondary.”
The Browns flirted with redemption early in the second half when they marched to the goal line during their first possession of the third quarter. Marecic had chances to barrel into the end zone from the 2 and the 1, but the Bears’ defense stopped him each time.
Despite their letdown on the goal line, the Browns trimmed their deficit to three points after quarterback Jarrett Brown completed a 38-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rod Windsor with 11:43 left in the final quarter, and Dawson followed with a successful extra-point kick.
However, their comeback attempt ultimately failed. Bears linebacker Deron Minor picked off Brown, and the Bears’ offense made the Browns pay for the turnover. Hughes rushed for another a 1-yard touchdown, helping extend the Bears’ lead to 24-14 with 5:56 remaining.
Browns wide receiver Demetrius Williams hurt his shoulder when safety Winston Venable launched into him during the fourth quarter, Shurmur said. Other than Williams’setback, the Browns appeared to escape their final exhibition game without suffering any significant injuries.