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Bears' defense shuts out Browns
The Bears delivered a memo Saturday, not a detailed message, regarding the resurrection of their defense in 1990.
Four sacks, an interception and stifling run resistance highlighted the Bears' 13-0 defeat of the Cleveland Browns in the annual Hall of Fame preseason game at Fawcett Stadium.
Winning for the first time since Nov. 12, 1989, the Bears downplayed the significance of the triumph, yet stressed it could be a portent of regular-season success.
"You don't put anything into it, except you build on it," said coach Mike Ditka, whose club wound up last season with six straight losses.
"We have Miami next week, which should be a better test because they are going to throw the ball around a little bit."
A record Hall of Fame game crowd of 23,952 saw the Bears raise their record in this exhibition to 3-0 as they outgained the Browns 307 yards to 128.
"It was nice to take a step forward, believe me," Ditka said. "We have been taking a lot sideways and backwards. It is encouraging from a lot of aspects.
"I realize you can't put a lot of significance into a game like this. The Browns didn't have a lot of their key people out there most of the game. But we asked the kids to do something, and the defense responded by playing the defenses Vince (Tobin) called and playing them pretty well.
"We played zone almost the whole day, and we blitzed nobody. It is encouraging to see that we did play zone that way."
Second year defensive end Trace Armstrong had back-to-back sacks of Browns starter Bernie Kosar (3 of 5 passes for 19 yards) in the first quarter. Richard Dent and rookie Ted Hennings also earned sacks.
"We had pressure on the quarterback with the first unit," said Ditka. "It is nothing I didn't expect with Dan Hampton, (William) Perry, Dent and Trace in there."
The Bears led 3-0 at the half on Kevin Butler's 31-yard field goal.
Second-year tight end James Coley scored the game's only touchdown in the third quarter on an impressive 35-yard reception and run, with Mike Tomczak doing the throwing. Penn State rookie Ray Tarasi added the extra point and a 42-yard fourth-quarter field goal.
"Offensively, there were a lot of misses and hits," said Ditka. "We also missed a chance to get a couple of turnovers on fumbles and interceptions. And we dropped the ball twice, and they picked it up twice. But, overall, it was a pretty good performance."
Jim Harbaugh started at quarterback and completed 6 of 8 passes for 97 yards. But he sustained a bruised lower back and sat out the second half as a precaution.
Tomczak (9 of 16 for 116 yards and 1 TD) started the third quarter and gave way to free agent Brent Pease (2 of 7 for 16 yards) in the fourth.
"I was very happy with the quarterbacks' performance," said Ditka, who plans to start Tomczak next Saturday at Soldier Field against the Dolphins.
"I thought all three of them played pretty well. I was very impressed with Mike and Brent, and I thought Jim did a heck of a job. He got caught in a couple of no-catch situations, where he moved forward and the back wasn't in the right spot on the flare. You have to be careful with that because you are going to be caught with a backward pass or a lateral."
Harbaugh directed the Bears to a field goal on their first possession. He connected on a 33-yard pass to Wendell Davis (two catches for 48 yards) to key the drive.
Two plays later, Harbaugh kept the ball on a six-yard run up the middle. He was upended hard with a knee to the hip and had to leave the game briefly, Tomczak replacing him.
"This is the time you learn, and I think Jim learned something today," said Ditka. "He made a good play by scrambling for a first down, but then he almost got himself out of the game. You have got to weigh one against the other sometimes."
Fullback Bryan Bero's four-yard run and two incomplete passes Tomczak intended for Davis in the end zone set the stage for Butler's three-pointer.
Harbaugh returned for the Bears' next possession and finished the half.
"I was happy," he said. "Every series I was in, we moved the ball and we did it through the air. The staff worked really hard over the offseason to give us better reads and plays. I think you saw that out there."
Bears rookie Tony Moss of LSU made a dazzling 55-yard punt return in the second quarter before Barry Redden's crunching tackle separated him from the ball, and Cleveland's Stephen Braggs recovered it.
On the sideline, Ditka had words of advice for the shifty 5-foot-7-inch, 169-pound Moss.
"I just said, 'You're in the big leagues now and you are going to get hit a lot harder. When you make a return of that magnitude, take what you can get and then if you even have to get out of bounds, go ahead,' " said Ditka. "He cut back into three people, and the third guy is the one who knocked the ball out. This was a bugaboo with us in the past, the fumbling. We just can't fumble the football. Turnovers kill you."
Mike Pagel (11 of 26 for 62 yards) and Jeff Graham (6 of 10 for 35 yards) did most of the Cleveland quarterbacking.
But their effectiveness was restricted by poor field position, a credit to the Bears' defense.
Second-year safety Markus Paul made a brilliant diving interception in the fourth period.
"I thought Markus Paul's play in the secondary showed some good things," said Ditka. "He could have had a couple more interceptions that he didn't hold onto, but he played his position well. He broke on the ball and came up exceptionally well."
The Browns were playing with a patchwork offensive line and without five unsigned defensive regulars.
"It was a sloppy first game," said Browns coach Bud Carson. "Obviously, we're not satisfied with it. We knew we had a lot of work to do. Now we know we've got a lot more to do than we thought."