Baseball isn't the only sport in which hitters are ahead of pitchers before the regular season begins.
Hitting was plentiful Saturday night at Soldier Field as the Bears' defense--particularly its secondary--teed off on last season's NFL doormats in a 19-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns. But southpaw Cade McNown showed that he's still struggling with the strike zone.
The Bears finished with only two sacks, by reserves Russell Davis and Troy Wilson. But they consistently pressured Browns quarterbacks Tim Couch, Ty Detmer and Spergon Wynn, had three interceptions and made life painful for roaming receivers.
More important, the defense has yet to allow a touchdown in two exhibition victories, having now outscored its opponents 39-14.
McNown finished his four series Saturday completing 7 of 12 passes for 106 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But he was off the mark a good portion of the time, forcing his receivers to reach behind or come back for his throws, even on completions.
"It wasn't them, it was me," said McNown, discounting the suggestion that his receivers' timing may not be fine-tuned yet. "I wasn't getting a great grip on the ball ... and I still have to be more patient.
"We're a tweak here and a tweak there, but we have the ingredients to do good things this year."
With Jim Miller resting a sprained left elbow, No. 3 QB Shane Matthews saw his first action of the exhibition season and seemed to pick up where he left off last year. He was a steady 11 of 17 for 100 yards, including a 21-yarder to Macey Brooks. Matthews led the Bears on three drives ending in field goals.
"I don't feel 100 percent yet, but I feel good enough," said Matthews, referring to the staph infection following off-season hernia surgery that made him seriously ill. "A couple months ago, I didn't know if I'd ever play football or do anything else again, so it was really fun."
Curtis Enis was more productive than last week (five carries for 8 yards) with 10 carries Saturday for 37 yards, including a long of 8 yards and one catch for 10 yards.
"He's not in top condition yet, which is OK," said coach Dick Jauron. "We still have time."
The Browns, worst in the NFL last season at 2-14, managed just three points after a series of gifts from the Bears, beginning with McNown's throw directly into the arms of cornerback Daylon McCutcheon at the Bears' 24-yard line. Two plays later Walt Harris dropped a sure interception, squandering a likely touchdown.
Eddie Kennison gave the Browns another crack with a fumbled punt return, this time leaving Cleveland with the ball on the Bears' 20. But the Browns, due in part to a tackle for loss by Brian Urlacher on second and 9 from the 9, could not punch it in, settling instead for a 20-yard field goal.
Kennison soon redeemed himself. McNown overthrew him for a probable touchdown on the first play of the game, but Kennison snared a 41-yarder on the same play call for the first touchdown of the game with 3 minutes 1 second left in the first quarter.
Harris also made up for his error, intercepting Couch on the next series to give the Bears the ball on the Cleveland 38, setting up a 34-yard field goal by Paul Edinger.
The Bears' starting defense was dominant, keeping the Browns out of the end zone on their next possession despite a first and goal from the 8-yard line. Left end Bryan Robinson played a major role on the defensive stand, rocking running back Errict Rhett for a 3-yard loss on third and 4 as the Browns ended up with 25-yard field goal to pull to within 10-6.
The Bears' secondary distinguished itself with three first-half interceptions by Harris and safeties Tony Parrish and Shawn Wooden. Two led to field goals, with Wooden's eventually resulting in a 54-yarder by Jaret Holmes as the half ended. Parrish also had six tackles in the half and both he and Wooden took turns leveling Browns receivers.
Urlacher made himself known with impressive pursuit of Browns' ballcarriers, one memorable quarterback pressure that resulted in a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty and two pass breakups, including one monster hit at the goal line.
"It felt good to hit somebody solid, but I messed up a lot too," said the Bears' top draft pick. "On the two passes defended, it's amazing what happens when you take the right drops and do the right things."