CLEVELAND—After a 2-2 exhibition season, three lowly opponents and a 35-24 loss in the wrap-up Saturday night, the Bears figure they have at least one trump card to throw at Kansas City in the season opener two weeks from Sunday.
They refuse to name their starting quarterback.
Despite evidence that points to Shane Matthews over rookie Cade McNown, coach Dick Jauron said the decision would be made in the "near future." Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton hedged even further.
"I don't think you have to make the decision too quickly," he said. "First of all, I'd like Kansas City to prepare for two guys. One is a little more mobile than the other and one right now is just more experienced. I don't want to show our hand too quickly. I feel they both made progress."
On the premise presented last week by Jauron, it would appear Matthews cemented the opening-day starting role with an efficient first quarter. Moving the Bears methodically in a quick-strike, low-risk offense, Matthews completed 11 of 13 passes for 66 yards and a touchdown, a 1-yarder to Curtis Conway.
Jauron had suggested that all Matthews had to do Saturday was not fail miserably. Indeed, in completing 21 of 24 passes in the last two games, Matthews gave his coaches what they were looking for in a game plan that gave him every chance to succeed.
"We believe Shane has the ability to be a starter," Crowton said. "He's had two games in a row where he has completed a high percentage of passes, and this offense lends itself to that."
Matthews said he simply wanted to develop a rhythm with the first team, and the quick tempo was disconcerting to the Browns.
"We kept them off-balance," he said. "They were not even ready a couple of times when we snapped the ball."
Good field position provided by two long Glyn Milburn returns helped.
McNown did not have that same advantage. Playing with the second unit, McNown faced a second-and-25 and a second-and-26 on his first two series as the Bears committed eight second-quarter penalties.
Playing the second and third quarters, McNown was 4 of 10 for 42 yards and one touchdown, a 19-yard corner fade to Marcus Robinson. Moses Moreno took over in the fourth quarter with the Bears trailing 25-24.
Favoring bruised ribs afterward, McNown clung to the contention that it doesn't matter who starts on opening day.
"There's a lot of time to go and it's not a big concern with me right now," he said. "My concern, like I've said all along, is just to make strides and I felt I made strides (Saturday) night."
The Bears were at their best early with the offense swallowing up 12 minutes 20 seconds of the first quarter and holding a 16:37-3:49 time-of-possession advantage at one point of the second. They went to Conway or Curtis Enis on 17 of their 23 first-quarter plays.
For Conway, it was a loud response to concerns he had raised about not getting enough practice for the regular season. After just two receptions in three games coming in, Conway caught eight first-quarter passes for 47 yards.
Enis also had his most impressive outing thus far. After a tentative first outing last week, he looked considerably more comfortable with 10 carries for 40 yards.
The Bears scored twice in each of the first two quarters, closing out a solid first with a 29-yard field goal by Brian Gowins, the former Northwestern kicker signed as a temporary replacement for the injured Jeff Jaeger.
Playing with the starting offensive line--including Olin Kreutz at center--for only one series, the Bears had 104 first-quarter yards to just 60 for the Browns, who managed just seven plays in the quarter.
The Bears' return unit stood out, notably Milburn, who had first-quarter kickoff returns of 33 and 32 yards, and rookie D'Wayne Bates, who silenced an animated Browns Stadium crowd with an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to extend the lead to 24-13.