Black and Blue all over: Bears defense a 'mess'
The good news? The Chicago Bears avoided a winless preseason Thursday night, slipping past the Cleveland Browns 16-10.
The rest of the news? Legitimate concern has surfaced about the Bears defense, which gave up two scoring drives to a watered-down Browns offense despite having the majority of its own starters on the field. Defensive tackles Tommie Harris and Dusty Dvoracek sat out along with safety Mike Brown, but the rest of the Bears' starters allowed 123 yards on 21 plays to the Browns, who were without quarterback Derek Anderson, running back Jamal Lewis and receiver Braylon Edwards.
There weren't a lot of "Oh, it's just preseason" quotes afterward. Cornerback Charles Tillman called the situation "a mess" and said: "If I had an answer I'd tell you right now."
Coach Lovie Smith acknowledged his disappointment and wouldn't use the typically generic defensive schemes of preseason as an excuse:
''We've been vanilla the entire preseason. We are not going to use that as a reason for not playing as well as we need to. We're not going to go down that road. Yeah, we'll have a lot more stuff in [when we play the Indianapolis Colts], but that's the base stuff we do and you need to be sound fundamentally with your base stuff.''
The Bears' No. 1 defense gave up a score on seven of its final nine drives of the preseason. One of the two non-scoring drives ended in a blocked field goal. They haven't panicked yet, but changes already were under way Thursday night. Kevin Payne has leapfrogged Brandon McGowan as the starting strong safety, and defensive coordinator Bob Babich called the game from the sideline rather than his usual perch in the press box.
Chicago plays the Colts a week from Sunday. You think Peyton Manning has incentive to hurry back onto the field?
Elsewhere around the NFC North:
- Bears third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie completed 12 of 17 passes for 115 yards and one interception, but it's not clear whether the Bears will keep him on their 53-man roster or attempt to sneak him onto their practice squad.
- Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress was livid after his team's sloppy 16-10 loss at Dallas. To be fair, his entire starting lineup, as well as backup quarterback Gus Frerotte, sat out. But, Childress said: "I hate to lose and I like putting my best foot forward. So when we pick the 53 guys on the team, we're going to pick 53 winners. That's what we're going to do."
- Some of Childress' anger was directed at quarterbacks John David Booty and Brooks Bollinger. Booty threw an interception on his first pass, while Bollinger completed only six of 18 passes. Both are competing for the Vikings' No. 3 job. "They were both average," Childress said. "Average is about the worst thing you can say about somebody. Average."
- Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant finished the preseason without a carry. He played only one down Thursday night in his preseason debut; the Packers starting offense scored on its first and only play. "We just felt like the risk-reward wasn't worth it," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin told the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Neither of the Packers' backup quarterbacks, Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn, had a good night Thursday against Tennessee. It leaves the team in a predicament with final cuts coming this weekend. There will certainly be a veteran quarterback or two available.
- Packers long-snapper J.J. Jansen suffered what might be a serious left knee injury.
- The Detroit Lions were the only team to finish the preseason 4-0. What does it mean? "Nothing," coach Rod Marinelli said.
- Lions safety Daniel Bullocks got his first game action after recovering from a knee injury suffered last season.