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Debut in Champaign lacks fizz
It was not the kind of unveiling the Bears were seeking.
After a 13-3 season in 2001, the Bears bumbled through a less-than-auspicious start to what they believe should be a Super Bowl season, losing 27-3 Saturday night to the Denver Broncos in their exhibition opener.
"It wasn't exactly what we were looking for, but that's preseason," coach Dick Jauron said.
The No. 1 offense and defense were "passable," he said, "but it was sort of downhill from there."
The defense, led by linebackers Rosevelt Colvin, Warrick Holdman and Brian Urlacher, held the Broncos to 103 yards in the first half, only 29 rushing. But the Bears' first- and second-team offenses managed just 1 rushing yard, one first down and three points in the first half despite starting in Denver's half of the field twice in the first quarter.
The offense through three quarters had no rushing first downs and only 6 rushing yards, and a total of three passing first downs, one more than the Broncos handed them on penalties.
Despite their mission to establish an identity as a running team, the Bears finished with 18 rushing yards on 18 attempts.
The Bears had two of their first three possessions in Denver territory but totaled only three points and minus-5 yards from the two chances. A 35-yard punt return by Leon Johnson gave the offense the ball at the Denver 48-yard line on the Bears' second possession, but a flanker screen lost 2 yards and the offense went three-and-out.
Urlacher gave the offense another shot when he sacked Denver quarterback Brian Griese at the Broncos' 14, forced a fumble and outfought Griese and two Broncos for the ball. The sack was one of three by the Bears, with Holdman and cornerback Todd McMillon also beating Broncos protection for takedowns of Griese.
But Anthony Thomas was stopped for a 5-yard loss and quarterback Chris Chandler threw incomplete on third down toward fullback Daimon Shelton before Paul Edinger kicked a 36-yard field goal with 2 minutes 14 seconds remaining in the quarter.
The Broncos took the lead in the second quarter when quarterback Steve Beuerlein found veteran tight end Dwayne Carswell in the end zone against rookie safety Bobby Gray to complete a seven-play, 44-yard drive. Kicker Jason Elam converted field goals from 49 and 45 yards in the second quarter to increase Denver's lead to 13-3 at halftime.
Bears starters played barely half of the first quarter. Quarterback Jim Miller completed 4-of-6 passes for 17 yards on two possessions, and Thomas lost a total of 2 yards on four carries before giving way to Johnson and the rest of the depth chart.
Chandler didn't do much to stir up a quarterback controversy in Chicago. Looking unsure of where his receivers were--often with good reason--Chandler was sacked twice to end successive possessions late in the second quarter.
Chandler wasn't the only one struggling in the Bears' offense. After he was sacked on two third downs, Henry Burris replaced him, only to be sacked on his first third down and fumble the snap on his second.
Burris' troubles mounted in the third quarter when he threw two interceptions, the second setting up a fourth-down TD pass of 1 yard from former Notre Dame quarterback Jarious Jackson to ex-Bears fullback Tony Carter. The pass to Carter gave the Broncos a 20-3 lead.
On the plus side, there were early flashes of what the Bears want to do in 2002 that they did not or could not in 2001.
On third-and-11 on their first possession, Miller converted on a pass to Marty Booker. That did not happen often last year; of 55 third downs of longer than 10 yards, the Bears converted only three.
Miller went deep to Booker on the next play. While the 35-yard pass was just beyond Booker's fingertips, the play established a pattern of challenging defenses down the field. On the Bears' second possession, Miller went 30 yards downfield to David Terrell, but the pass was broken up.