The Chicago Bears won a very important game over Dallas on Monday night that kept the team in the playoff hunt.
Chicago's offense under first-year coach Marc Trestman had a huge game, especially Josh McCown at quarterback. Trestman used to coach in Cleveland, and he once coached Cleveland hero Bernie Kosar at the University of Miami. He has been winning with McCown playing for Jay Cutler.
While the Bears fight for a playoff spot, the Browns fight to simply win a game. They've lost four in a row and seven of eight, including gut-wrenching losses the past two weeks to Jacksonville and New England. Cleveland is quarterbacked by Jason Campbell, the Bears' backup last season.
Bears writer Michael Wright of ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com Browns writer Pat McManamon look ahead to Sunday's game.
McManamon: Mike, the Bears are fourth in the league in passing offense under Trestman. He came from Canada with the reputation as an offensive wizard and produced 45 points in a frigid December game. What does he do in the passing game and in the offense to get these results and this success?
Wright: Pat, probably the most important thing Trestman and the offensive coaching staff have done is taught the importance of understanding the actual concepts of the offense as opposed to simply telling players where to go on any given play. The players know exactly what the offense wants to accomplish on a given play, and each player knows how they individually help the club to make the play work by carrying out their particular responsibilities. For instance, Brandon Marshall may not be the primary receiver on a certain play. But he'll know exactly why he needs to run a route at a particular depth to free up the No. 2 or No. 3 receiver underneath. As you know, every player knows what they're supposed to do on a particular play, but Trestman makes sure they know why, and that's played a significant role in the offense's success. And it's taught at every level, from the line to the running backs out to the receivers. That, to me, leads to a certain synergy that's paramount in offensive football.
Pat, I know the loss to New England was disappointing considering the Browns blew a 26-14 lead and the fact there were a couple of controversial calls down the stretch. But is there any feeling at all of encouragement about what the team might be able to do in the coming weeks after the way it played against the Patriots?
McManamon: Any positive in a storm, Mike, and the Browns will take it. They point to the heart the team showed in bouncing back from a bad loss to Jacksonville, and to the fact that they did not quit after that loss. They also point to Campbell, who has had three incredible games and two very average ones. The one in New England was one of the incredibles. Finally, they point to Josh Gordon, who has done so many good things the past month.
These are all building blocks -- and good building blocks. But the problem with the Browns is they've given their fans nothing but building blocks since 1999, and since 2007 they have won 27 games -- total. Fans are sick of building, tearing down and rebuilding. They show loyalty and faith every time there is a restart. They're ready to really win and not just come close. Anything that happens in the final three games won't matter a whole lot.
Let's turn to quarterback, Mike. Campbell has been shockingly good in Cleveland. Did the Bears ever see this guy in Chicago? On Chicago's side, has McCown taken the job from Cutler permanently?
Wright: They saw it, Pat. The problem is the Bears couldn't afford to keep Campbell. When the Bears brought him in, they paid him a $2 million signing bonus and a base salary of $1.4 million, and his cap number was $3.754 million. So when the Bears started making decisions in the offseason about some of the free-agent additions they needed to make, Campbell was more of a luxury than a priority. The Bears spent big to bring in left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett, and after losing linebackers Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach in free agency, they needed to add two more starters at linebacker. Remember, the Bears also placed the franchise tag on defensive tackle Henry Melton, which resulted in a cap hit of $8.45 million. McCown, at $840,000, was simply a cheaper option than Campbell.
Speaking of McCown, he's the first Bears quarterback to produce three consecutive 300-yard passing games. But he hasn't taken the starting job from Cutler. Trestman has made that very clear, and even McCown says that right now, he's simply playing his role until Cutler returns. So right now, the team has been on record on numerous occasions saying Cutler is the guy as soon as he's medically cleared to play.
Out here in Chicago, Campbell made his only start during a slaughter at San Francisco in which I'm not sure Cutler would have made a difference. How would you measure his play out there in Cleveland?
McManamon: Surprisingly good. Perhaps shockingly good. Campbell had a good game against Kansas City, a very good game against Baltimore and an excellent game against New England -- along with so-so outings against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh when he was dealing a painful and unspecified rib injury. Campbell returned from a concussion to a lot of uncertainty. But he stepped in against New England and threw for 391 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, he brought a sense of calm to the Browns' offense that was badly needed.
It's a bit of a mystery where this Jason Campbell has come from. He is not the same guy he was in his one start in Chicago, and he is far better even than when he was starting in Oakland. He still has limitations -- a strong pass rush should give him problems -- but to call him anything but a positive in Cleveland would not be fair to him.
Mike, Chicago's one weakness might seem to be its 2-4 road record. Can the Bears win on the road, and with a game following this one in Philadelphia, don't they pretty much have to win in Cleveland if they hope to make the playoffs? Even if it means playing on the road following a Monday night game?
Wright: It's been more than a month since the Bears have won on the road (Nov. 4 at Green Bay), and they absolutely have to win Sunday to have any realistic shot of making the postseason. Because of their putrid 4-6 conference record, the Bears would lose out in any tiebreakers for an NFC wildcard. So Chicago needs to win the division to make it to the postseason. But right now, Chicago is a half-game behind the Detroit Lions, who swept the Bears this season. So they've got to win out, basically, and hope the Lions slip. If the Bears do manage to win at Cleveland, the road gets tougher at Philadelphia in a game that has been flexed to a night matchup. A win at Philadelphia would mark the team's first consecutive wins since September. But remember, Chicago still has to host the Green Bay Packers in the season finale Dec. 29. And by then, the Bears could be facing a Packers team with a healthy Aaron Rodgers back in the fold.
Pat, Josh Gordon has gone off over the past four games. What's he doing to opponents that makes him so difficult to handle, and how much of a focal point has he become to what the Browns are doing offensively now?
McManamon: First of all, a little perspective on Chicago not winning a road game since Nov. 4. The Browns have won one game since Oct. 3, home and away.
As for Gordon, he's just an amazing physical presence, with size and sprinter's speed that lets him get away from defenders. He also has amazing strength, and has learned how to avoid jams and run routes. It is rare on a play that he is not open. Teams have refused to double-cover him, and they've paid. Bill Belichick had a week to prepare, gave the job of covering Gordon to Aqib Talib, and Gordon had the best game by any receiver against New England this season. The Browns lack a run game, and Gordon can't catch every ball. But he clearly has grown into option No. 1 on almost every pass play.