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While wide receiver Marcus Robinson was earning a standing ovation from the crowd of 36,535 Friday for his first touchdown catch of the exhibition season, the Bears were giving their strongest sign yet they are just about ready for the regular season to start despite finishing on the short end of a 24-16 score against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jacksonville rallied for 24 second-half points in a game that left both teams 1-2 in their exhibition seasons. But the third exhibition game is traditionally the most revealing because the first strings on both sides log their longest preseason playing times, and the Bears starters "won" for the second week in a row.
The Bears led 13-0 at halftime, 13-10 at the end of the third quarter, then saw the Jaguars take a 17-16 lead on a touchdown pass from rookie quarterback David Garrard to receiver Henry Douglas midway through the fourth quarter.
The Jaguars finished the scoring when Javor Mills recovered a Bears fumble in the end zone.
The Bears' offense put up 13 first-half points with 10 first downs and 171 yards of offense while the defense was turning in its first scoreless half of the exhibition season. Bears quarterbacks Jim Miller and Chris Chandler completed 10-of-15 passes in the first half, with Chandler's 6-of-7 passing including a 26-yard throw to Robinson late in first half that brought the crowd and Robinson's teammates to their feet applauding.
Robinson was playing in his first game since sustaining a knee injury last Oct. 21 against Cincinnati.
It was also a night of quarterbacks, with all four on the roster taking snaps within the first three quarters. Miller started and played three series. Chandler played the second quarter, Miller opened the third quarter and backups Henry Burris and Ken Mastrole alternated series from the mid-third quarter on in their quests for the No. 3 reserve role.
The offense was handed an opportunity on the opening kickoff when a Jacksonville personal foul moved the ball to the Jaguars' 43. Miller threw to Marty Booker for nine yards, then spotted Booker with position on cornerback Fernando Bryant, who held Booker for a 20-yard pass interference penalty.
At third-and-eight from the Jacksonville 10, Miller waited for the middle to clear and hit a wide-open Dez White, who went untouched into the end zone. But left tackle Bernard Robertson was called for holding.
Paul Edinger hit the left upright from 38 yards on his field-goal try, but the ball caromed through for a 3-0 lead.
The defense started with its own dramatic statement, with end Bryan Robinson collecting his first sack of the exhibition season with a takedown of Mark Brunell on Jacksonville's first play. Two plays later Phillip Daniels, rushing from tackle in the Bears' nickel alignment, beat the block of guard Chris Naeole for his first sack of this preseason.
The defense held Jacksonville to no first downs and 22 total yards in the first quarter. The Jaguars did not pick up a first down until a 32-yard pass from Brunell to Darnay Scott with 10 minutes left in the second quarter.
Chandler took advantage of his first snaps of the exhibition season with the No. 1 offensive unit. Taking over for the fourth series at the end of the first quarter, Chandler directed a drive from the Bears' 30 to the Jacksonville 27, completing passes of 10 yards to running back Anthony Thomas and 16 to receiver David Terrell amid five runs by Leon Johnson and Rabih Abdullah.
Chandler's third-down throw toward Terrell was deflected, and Edinger came on to bounce his second field goal off the inside of the left upright, this time from 45 yards, to put the Bears up 6-0.
Robinson caught his first pass in the second quarter, drifting out into the left flat and leaping for a Chandler pass for 14 yards. Chandler went again to Robinson later in the drive for four yards, with Robinson testing his knee with a cut move.
The two capped the drive with Robinson finding a seam in the Jacksonville secondary, taking Chandler's pass and then beating safety Marlin McCree to the pylon for the touchdown to give the Bears a 13-0 halftime lead.
The drove for a score on the opening possession of the third quarter. The touchdown came on a 5-yard pass from rookie Garrard to receiver Bobby Shaw, who was wide open in the end zone after cornerback Todd McMillon slipped.
Jacksonville closed to 13-10 with 1 minute 45 seconds left in the third quarter when rookie kicker Hayden Epstein kicked a 45-yard field goal. Edinger's third field goal, from 50 yards, increased the lead to 16-10.