Thousands of Chicago Bears fans were financially assaulted on Thursday night as those who pray to the altar of Ditka were forced to hand over hard-earned money to see what was ultimately a glorified scrimmage that just so happened to be televised.
While the Bears would trot out a few players who have actually been drafted to fantasy teams at some point in their career, the Cleveland Browns countered with what would ultimately be rookies and bubble-laden veterans hoping to make the 53-man roster when the announcement is made this coming Saturday at 6pm. The final score read 24-14 in favor of the Bears, but on a night when the goal at hand is to extend a career rather than win the game, lighting up the Soldier Field scoreboard was merely a waste of electricity.
Eighteen of the Browns 22 starters were spectators on this evening, dressed to play but never stepping foot beyond the sideline. What they witnessed was the arch-enemy of competitive football, the remaining 60 or so players looking to impress the Browns decision-makers – while avoiding injury - but failing to stop the Bears attack on defense or muster one of their own on offense. Punter Richmond McGee earned his paycheck in this contest with the Seneca Wallace-led offense providing more three-and-outs than three-yard outs. The first completed pass and subsequent first down came with just under five minutes to go in the first half.
Once again, despite being represented by rookies and practice squad hopefuls, the Browns fell victim to the penalty flag and extended many Bears drives into what would ultimately be scoring opportunities. At one point early in the evening, theOrangeand Brown had amassed seven penalties before the Bears recorded their first. There were back-to-back plays by rookie defensive end Jabaal Sheard (one roughing the passer play, a 15-yard penalty) which resulted in yellow accessories lacing the field; rookie hopeful James Dockery was also nailed, being flagged for two separate pass interference plays as well as an illegal contact penalty in the first half alone.
To Dockery’s credit, his receiver (Chicago’s Johnny Knox) was targeted early and often, providing more opportunity for missteps. He challenged his opposition on every play, not allowing any easy receptions even if multiple plays resulted in infractions. Also playing well was third-year wide receiver Brian Robiskie who hauled in three passes for 39 yards, refusing to merely go through the motions despite the circumstances set forth.
Rookie running back Armond Smith managed to find the end zone once again, finishing the preseason as the Browns’ leading rusher. Key for Smith is that he did not put the ball on the ground, something that had plagued him in the preceding weeks. With Brandon Jackson banged up, Smith could be one of the few bubble players who the Browns opt to keep on their 53-man roster or stash on the practice squad. The other player who made his presence be felt was defensive end Auston English who recorded two sacks, finishing with four on the preseason. English’s competition for a back-up end roster spot comes in the form of Derreck Robinson and Brian Sandford as Sheard, Jayme Mitchell and Marcus Benard will hold down three of the others.
Not doing well and hopefully never seeing the football field again after this season is the asinine kickoff rule that continues to find footballs five yards beyond the end zone and players still attempting to run them out with hopes of springing a big run.
The Browns – and fans alike – can now look forward to opening week as theOrangeand Brown will play host to the Cincinnati Bengals. Just who will be manning the sidelines, representing Cleveland, remains to be seen.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast