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Inconsistent McNown successful in the end
Based on the most significant playing time of his fledgling pro career, Cade McNown's rookie season will be nothing if not suspenseful.
And the Bears are sure to follow.
Youthful 3-yard touchdown run. Two rookie interceptions. Dramatic 20-yard touchdown pass.
Such were the defining moments of McNown's first starting assignment. He played the first half of the Bears' 38-24 victory Saturday night over the St. Louis Rams in the next-to-last game of the preseason.
"Clearly, this is why people say they don't like to rely on (a rookie quarterback)," Bears coach Dick Jauron said, declining to name the starter in the final exhibition game next week at Cleveland. "In Minnesota they're talking about (playing rookie Daunte Culpepper) three and four years down the road. It takes awhile."
Bears fans had better get used to being patient. But a loud number of fans at Soldier Field were not as McNown threw interceptions on his first two passes within the first seven plays of the game.
The fans had barely settled into their seats for the opening possession when cornerback Walt Harris intercepted a Trent Green pass on the fourth play of the game, returning it 26 yards to the St. Louis 4-yard line. Two plays later, McNown rolled left on a bootleg and scooted in untouched for the score to give the Bears an early lead.
"Starting out, it was horrible," McNown said after going 7 for 13 for 71 yards. "I was disgusted with myself. Even starting off, running in for the touchdown, it didn't even feel good to me. I wasn't in a haze or anything. I just wasn't seeing things the way I'm used to seeing them."
The Bears defense pounced again on the next series when linebacker Sean Harris fell on a fumbled quarterback exchange, this time giving the Bears the ball on the Rams' 11. On this occasion, however, McNown's exuberance hurt him. Failing to read Blake Brockermeyer's block, McNown ran directly into the path of his left tackle and a Rams defender, then tried to throw off-balance to Bobby Engram in the end zone. Cornerback Todd Lyght made a leaping interception.
The Rams did not capitalize on the turnover, but McNown gave them another chance on the next series when he overthrew his tight end and free safety Keith Lyle intercepted. A 12-yard return to the Bears 38 set up Jeff Wilkins' 25-yard field goal.
"The thing starters do a lot better is disguise their coverages," McNown said of his first exposure to an opponent's first unit.
The other much anticipated appearance of the night was by running back Curtis Enis, who was playing for the first time since reconstructive knee surgery last winter. The results were mixed as Enis rushed for 21 yards on five attempts, looking tentative at times but breaking an impressive 15-yarder.
"I was kind of tentative in the hole, chopping my feet," Enis said. "Usually when I get in the flow of the game I get downhill and get my pads north and south. All those are little things I can correct."
McNown ended his night on a high note, directing an eight-play, 68-yard drive that gave the Bears a 14-13 halftime lead after an acrobatic 20-yard grab by Macey Brooks. The play was called a touchdown after it was ruled the airborne Brooks had been pushed out of the end zone.
The Bears defense played well in the second half, holding the Rams to a 23-yard field goal on a third-quarter drive that had reached the Bears 1 with a first-and-goal. The Rams soon nullified a TD with a pass-interference penalty, one of 10 flags against them.
In the race for No. 2 quarterback, Shane Matthews appeared to have maintained his edge, completing 10 of 11 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown, a 12-yard screen to rookie D'Wayne Bates that extended the lead to 21-13. He also led the Bears on a five-play, 72-yard drive with rookie running back Aaron Stecker diving in from the 1 to make it 28-16.
Jim Miller finished out the fourth quarter. He completed 3 of 5 passes for 72 yards and a 33-yard touchdown to Fabien Bownes as the Bears rang up their highest preseason point total since 1989.