EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—Success in NFL exhibition games cannot be judged by conventional criteria. That is, were any key players injured? Did the rookies embarrass themselves? Did coaches learn anything?
And, oh, yeah, did the team win?
By those standards, the Bears had an above-average if not overly impressive exhibition opener Saturday night, defeating the New York Giants 20-8 but leaving the coaching staff with plenty to address come Monday morning in Platteville.
Backup quarterback Jim Miller was injured after one play. The rookies were not awful but certainly made their mistakes. And the coaches learned they still have a lot to learn about their kickers and punters.
Starting quarterback Cade McNown was steady, completing 3 of 5 passes for 42 yards. But Miller had an unfortunate debut. He came in for one play and left with a sprained left elbow on a 6-yard loss and a safety by Christian Peter, who blew past free-agent tackle Uzooma Okeke, starting in place of the injured Chris Villarrial.
Mark Hartsell relieved Miller and was impressive, completing 8 of 9 passes for 90 yards, including a 3-yard fade in the end zone to Macey Brooks, coming back after reconstructive knee surgery last season.
One of the key issues to be addressed Saturday night was the kicking game, and Bears kickers had their chances.
With five kickers and punters in camp--soon to be six with the addition of Jeff Jaeger--the Bears received the type of break on the first series that could only be called a break in the preseason. That is they got to see rookie placekicker Paul Edinger kick a 51-yard field goal.
Then, because of a penalty for an illegal formation that took the field goal off the board, they got to see punter Aron Langley, who shanked a 33-yarder that benefited from a favorable bounce.
Edinger got another opportunity and kicked a 43-yard field goal in the third quarter. But Langley was largely unimpressive with his three first-half punts, getting off a low 44-yarder and a pooched 29-yarder, neither of which was returned.
Jaret Holmes tied the game 3-3 with a 24-yard field goal in the second quarter. And punter Brent Bartholomew, acquired in an off-season trade, looked better on his first attempt--a 50-yarder that yielded a 2-yard return in the fourth quarter--than Langley looked on his three kicks.
Top draft pick Brian Urlacher showed his speed at strong-side linebacker but did not particularly stand out in his first NFL game. Urlacher did put his safety abilities to use on the first series, easily chasing down running back Tiki Barber, who caught a Kerry Collins pass out of the backfield for a 4-yard gain.
Rookie third-rounder Dez White buried his face in the turf after a wide-open 30-yarder from McNown bounced off his midsection and slipped through his arms.
The Bears' secondary had its moments. With nothing to learn by having Brad Daluiso kick a 23-yard field goal, the Giants opted to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Bears' 6-yard-line in the second quarter, but Collins' pass to Ike Hilliard was batted away by second-year corner Jerry Azumah.
Still Collins generally exploited the middle of the Bears' defense in the first half with 15-of-18 passing for 117 yards and benefited from very little pass rush from either the Bears' first or second string.
Of the Bears' veteran newcomers, receiver Eddie Kennison, acquired in a trade with New Orleans during the off-season, was used on kick returns early and responded with a 65-yard burst to the Giants' 24-yard-line at the end of the first quarter, setting up the Holmes field goal.
Kennison also had a 39-yard kickoff return in the second quarter negated by a holding call on James Allen, and R. W. McQuarters' 50-yard fourth-quarter punt return set up a 17-yard touchdown pass from Clint Dolezel to fullback Scott Dragos.
Of the Bears' veterans, Bobby Engram was the most productive early with two catches for 39 yards, including a 28-yarder on the first series.
Curtis Enis had eight yards on five carries in the first quarter, failing to convert a third-and-seven with a 3-yard gain on a flare pass from McNown.
In addition to Miller, the injured included tight John Allred (calf) and receiver Marty Booker (hamstring). Rookie safety Mike Green stayed on the turf for a long time in the third quarter after a big hit on Giants free-agent fullback Craig Walendy but returned to the game. Among the newcomers, rookie Dustin Lyman (knee), Thomas Smith (thigh) and Chris Mims (groin) did not play.
The Giants wanted a good look at rookie Ron Dayne, who is running slightly ahead of Joe Montgomery for the starting job at running back. The Heisman Trophy winner from Wisconsin had 17 carries for 48 yards and two catches for 18 yards.