CLEVELAND — The Browns finished a winless preseason Thursday, but the night was far from a complete loss.
The starters played well enough to allow fans to press pause on the panic button, and even earned a compliment from coach Romeo Crennel.
That qualifies as a win in this preseason.
“We accomplished what I set out to accomplish with the first guys,” Crennel said after a 16-10 loss to the Bears dropped the Browns to 0-4. “I wanted us to look decent and I thought we did.
“The starters had focus and they had a purpose about trying to look good as long as they were in there.”
The preseason finale — among the most worthless days on the NFL calendar — would’ve been a greater success if not for injuries suffered by starting right guard Rex Hadnot (knee strain) and reserve receiver/kick returner Syndric Steptoe (shoulder). Neither returned to action and they will be further evaluated today.
With injured starters Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, Joe Jurevicius and Ryan Tucker watching from the sideline, what was left of the first team gave Cleveland hope for the season. After two possessions for each team, the Browns led 10-0 and pulled their starters.
Quarterback Brady Quinn showed vast improvement in his second straight start, amassing 10 points in two drives. It would’ve been 14, but he threw behind an open Kellen Winslow in the end zone on the opening possession.
Quinn took advantage of ample time in the pocket, going 7-for-9 for 65 yards and a 96.8 rating. It was the first touchdown by the first-team offense since the second quarter of the Giants game two weeks ago.
“We started in a rhythm and never really stopped,” Quinn said. “We just continued to move the ball down the field meticulously.”
Running back Jason Wright, filling in for Jamal Lewis (hamstring), rushed for 41 yards on nine carries (4.6 average) and caught two passes for 13 yards. He had gains of 11, 9, 11 and 5 on the opening drive.
Running back Jerome Harrison scored the touchdown on a nifty pitch from Quinn. On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Quinn faked an inside handoff to fullback Lawrence Vickers and sent a left-handed pitch to Harrison, who had a clear path to the corner of the end zone.
“We were able to move the ball on a very good defense. That is no slouch defense,” Wright said. “That gives us confidence.”
The defense also looked much better than the previous two outings.
After the Browns allowed a 17-yard screen on third-and-17 on Chicago’s first drive, defensive end Robaire Smith made amends on the next play. He threw tackle John St. Clair aside and hit Kyle Orton as he threw. Cornerback Brandon McDonald picked off the wobbler, and the Browns scored 10 plays and 72 yards later.
“We did a lot better than we did last week,” McDonald said of the defense. “We showed a lot of promise.”
The night’s biggest winner may have been receiver Travis Wilson.
He entered the game on the bubble to make the team and more than likely exited with a roster spot, despite dropping a perfectly thrown deep ball from Ken Dorsey that almost hit Wilson in the face mask. Wilson caught a team-high six passes for 57 yards, including a nifty grab of a Quinn pass that was behind him on a slant.
“He had excellent production tonight,” Crennel said. “He was trying to take advantage of an opportunity given him and it showed up.”
Wilson didn’t want to get ahead of himself.
“It’s out of my hands now,” he said. “Hopefully I’ve done enough through practices, scrimmages and games to earn the coaches’ respect again.”
The Browns had a chance to avoid their first winless preseason since 1972 — they went 0-6, then went 10-4 in the regular season and made the playoffs — when they reached the 2-yard line with less than six minutes left in the game. But on third down, rookie receiver Paul Hubbard dropped a touchdown.
“I took my eyes off the ball, maybe,” Hubbard said. “No excuses for it.”
Hadnot was hurt on the second series. He was able to walk slowly into the locker room, but was accompanied by trainers. Hadnot was holding the starting spot for Tucker, who may be encouraged to rush his recovery from a broken hip. Tucker wasn’t expected to be ready until Week 2 or 3.
If he and Hadnot can’t play in the opener Sept. 7 versus Dallas, Seth McKinney would step in. He started the first eight games at right guard last year before a shoulder injury ended his season.
Steptoe, who likely had a roster spot locked up, was injured on the opening kickoff return. The injury will sting less if Joshua Cribbs (high ankle) returns versus the Cowboys.
Tight end Darnell Dinkins (hip), defensive end Chase Pittman (foot) and linebacker Kris Griffin (elbow) were hurt in the second half and didn’t return. Griffin said he jammed the elbow and will be fine.
In the minutes following the game, the attention had already turned toward Dallas.
“Now it starts for real,” Crennel said. “I think everybody is excited about that.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or email@example.com.
Bears 16, Browns 10
Chicago 0 10 3 3 — 16
Cleveland 10 0 0 0 — 10
Cle—FG Dawson 26, 9:59.
Cle—Harrison 1 run (Dawson kick), :52.
Chi—Rideau 19 pass from Grossman (Gould kick), 3:04.
Chi—FG Gould 48, :00.
Chi—FG Gould 29, 7:57.
Chi—FG Gould 46, :30.
First downs 16 19
Total Net Yards 342 311
Rushes-yards 29-117 32-161
Passing 225 150
Punt Returns 1-5 4-16
Kickoff Returns 3-88 3-59
Interceptions Ret. 1-4 2-34
Comp-Att-Int 21-31-2 17-29-1
Sacked-Yards Lost 0-0 1-7
Punts 5-37.2 5-42.8
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 10-95 5-45
Time of Possession 29:34 30:26
RUSHING—Chicago: Peterson 6-36, Pope 8-34, Wolfe 8-24, Hanie 1-15, Forte 2-8, Jones 2-3, Polite 1-2, Orton 1-(minus 5). Cleveland: T.Thomas 11-70, J.Wright 9-41, Harrison 7-35, Hubbard 1-7, Ali 2-5, Vickers 2-3.
PASSING—Chicago: Hanie 12-17-1-115, Grossman 5-7-0-59, Orton 4-7-1-51. Cleveland: Dorsey 10-20-1-92, Quinn 7-9-0-65.
RECEIVING—Chicago: Bradley 5-42, Rideau 3-63, Wolfe 3-22, Bennett 2-21, Lloyd 2-13, Polite 2-8, Olsen 1-21, Forte 1-17, Booker 1-11, Peterson 1-7. Cleveland: Wilson 6-57, Dinkins 3-33, Sanders 2-23, Harrison 2-22, J.Wright 2-13, Hubbard 1-5, Hill 1-4.
MISSED FGs—Cleveland, Reda 47 (WR).