When Mitchell Trubisky lines up under center tonight to start the 4th Bears preseason game of 2017, he will join a curious list of Bears signal-callers who have started the team’s annual Browns preseason game.
The Bears have played 13 of these Browns games, starting in 2004 — five times, the starter was getting final reps before starting Week 1. In other cases, the starter didn’t even make the 53-man roster.
Here, now, is the definitive ranking of those 13 performances (key: the performances, not the quarterbacks), along with a rundown of the guys who backed them up.
1. DAVID FALES, 2015
- Stats vs. Browns: 14-18, 131 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
- Outcome: Bears win 24-0 (video and stats)
- Other Bears QBs this game: Zac Dysert (1-4, 9 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT)
- Fales 2015 regular season stats: zero games played
In his 2nd straight season starting the preseason finale, David Fales balled out as he tried to make a case to be carried on the active roster as the team’s 3rd quarterback behind starter Jay Cutler and backup Jimmy Clausen.
Despite a wonderful performance, Fales was inactive in Week 1 and then waived, signing to the practice squad shortly after. He made the active roster later in the season but did not play in any games in 2015.
2. JOSH MCCOWN, 2012
- Stats vs. Browns: 20-29, 157 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
- Outcome: Bears win 28-20 (video and stats)
- Other Bears QBs this game: none
- McCown 2012 regular season stats: zero games played
For the first time in the Bears-Browns era, one Bears quarterback played the entire game. McCown started and finished the ballgame, allowing the Bears to rest Cutler and new veteran backup Jason Campbell.
McCown caught on with the Bears in 2011 and started the final two games of the season, following Cutler’s season-ending thumb injury and Caleb Hanie’s struggles as starter. Despite a strong performance, he did not make the 53-man roster, with rookie Matt Blanchard signing to the practice squad.
Following Cutler missing a game with a concussion, the team re-signed McCown in November, setting the stage for his brilliant 2013.
3. BRIAN HOYER, 2016
- Stats vs. Browns: 12-16, 112 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
- Outcome: Bears win 21-7 (video and stats)
- Other Bears QBs this game: David Fales (4-10, 69 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT)
- Hoyer 2016 regular season stats: 1-4 in 6 games, 134-200, 1445 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT
The Bears signed Hoyer in April to compete with Fales and Blanchard for the #2 spot behind Cutler, and his start as well as performance in the 4th preseason game locked down that job. Hoyer’s season took a turn in Week 2 when Cutler left with an injury, leading to five straight starts for Hoyer.
His play as starter was hit and miss. He compiled a 98.0 quarterback rating, which is second best in Bears franchise history for a season with five starts, trailing only McCown’s 2013 mark of 109.0. But he was 1-4 as a starter and failed to capitalize on opportunities to win close games against the Colts and Jaguars. A broken arm against the Packers ended his season.
Hoyer bagged one other win in the Bears-Browns preseason series: he led the Browns to an 18-16 win over the Bears in 2013, beating out:
4. JORDAN PALMER, 2013
- Stats vs. Browns: 12-16, 112 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
- Outcome: Bears lose 18-16 (video and stats)
- Other Bears QBs this game: Trent Edwards (10-17, 135 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT)
- Palmer 2013 regular season stats: zero games played
Palmer became a camp and preseason fan favorite with the Bears, especially after his terrific performance in the preseason finale. Palmer played the entire first half, sending the Bears to the locker room with a 10-3 lead.
Despite his fine play, Palmer ended up on the outside of the final 53-man roster for Week 1. When Cutler went down in October, the team re-signed Palmer to backup new starter Josh McCown, but Palmer did not accumulate any stats.
5. KYLE ORTON, 2008
- Stats vs. Browns: 4-7, 51 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
- Outcome: Bears win 16-10 (video and stats)
- Other Bears QBs this game: Rex Grossman (5-7, 59 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT), Caleb Hanie (12-17, 115 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT)
- Orton 2008 regular season stats: 9-6 in 15 games, 272-465, 2972 yards, 18 TD, 12 INT
Before this year, 2008 was the last time the preseason determined the Bears’ starting quarterback, and the drama was fierce between a pair of former Bears starters: Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman. The team named Orton the starter before the 3rd preseason game; he played the first two drives against Cleveland, ending in an interception and a punt, and leaving the game trailing 10-0.
Grossman entered and led the team to a touchdown in his one drive. Third stringer Hanie led the Bears to three field goals and a 16-10 Bears win. Orton played better in the regular season than the preseason. The team won some incredible close games, lost some devastating close games, and were knocked out of the playoffs in Week 17.
As for Grossman? He started the team’s 9th game in place of an injured Orton, playing valiantly in a 21-14 loss to the then 8-0 Titans. This was the final season with the Bears for both quarterbacks — Grossman signed a free agent deal in 2009 with the Texans, while Orton was the centerpiece player on the Bears’ end of the trade to acquire Cutler.
6. REX GROSSMAN, 2006
- Stats vs. Browns: 5-8, 73 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
- Outcome: Bears win 20-7 (stats)
- Other Bears QBs this game: Brian Griese (1-3, 11 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT), Kyle Orton (13-21, 141 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT)
- Grossman 2006 regular season stats: 13-3 in 16 games, 262-480, 3193 yards, 23 TD, 20 INT
Jay Cutler never played in a Bears-Browns preseason game, but prior to Cutler’s arrival, head coach Lovie Smith played his Week 1 starter — Grossman three times, Orton wice — in all five games from 2004 to 2008.
Grossman played the first two drives against Cleveland, leading the team on two scoring drives and a 10-point lead before leaving the game for Brian Griese. With injuries to Grossman in each of his first three seasons, the 2006 preseason was a huge sample size for the oft-injured QB. His touchdown pass to Desmond Clark against the Browns was the first touchdown for the 1st team offense in the 2006 preseason under Grossman’s direction.
Griese played only one series, and did not start a game until 2007, playing sparingly in 2006 in relief of Grossman. In his 2nd season, Orton conducted mop-up duty against the Browns, and did not see the field again until 2007, as Grossman started all 16 games and led the team to Super Bowl XLI.
7. TODD COLLINS, 2010
- Stats vs. Browns: 10-15, 139 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
- Outcome: Bears lose 13-10 (video and stats)
- Other Bears QBs this game: Dan LeFevour (4-9, 44 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT)
- Collins 2010 regular season stats: 1-0 in 2 games, 10-27, 68 yards, 0 TD, 5 INT
The veteran Collins secured the #2 spot behind Cutler, leading to the hideous scenes of his performance in place of an injured Cutler during the season and, most notably, during the NFC championship game. Rookie Dan LeFevour finished the Browns game, but was released in favor of Caleb Hanie.
8. CALEB HANIE, 2011
- Stats vs. Browns: 7-10, 83 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
- Outcome: Bears win 24-14 (video and stats)
- Other Bears QBs this game: Nathan Enderle (6-13, 67 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT)
- Hanie 2011 regular season stats: 0-4 in 6 games, 51-102, 613 yards, 3 TD, 9 INT
After his heroic yet ultimately vastly overrated performance in the NFC championship game following Cutler’s injury and Collins’s ineptitude, Hanie entered 2011 as the team’s backup. He started the final preseason game, played two drives, and led the team to a 10-0 lead.
The 5th-round rookie Enderle played the rest of the way. Both Hanie and Enderle made the 53-man roster, though by the time a 3rd quarterback was needed in the regular season, the job was not Enderle’s, but Josh McCown’s (despite an impassioned argument for Enderle from our own Lester Wiltfong).
9. CALEB HANIE, 2009
- Stats vs. Browns: 9-13, 119 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
- Outcome: Bears win 26-23 (video and stats)
- Other Bears QBs this game: Brett Basanez (10-13, 144 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT)
- Hanie 2009 regular season stats: zero starts in 2 games, 3-7, 11 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
The battle for the backup spots behind new starter Jay Cutler came down to a pair of undrafted veterans: 2nd-year Caleb Hanie and 4th-year Brett Basanez. Hanie got the start in the final preseason game, playing through the 1st drive of the 3rd quarter. That drive resulted in a Bears touchdown, tying the game at 13 apiece.
The Northwestern alumnus Basanez took over and produced the best game of any backup in the Bears-Browns era. Trailing 20-13 when he took over, Basanez connected with Brandon Rideau for an 18-yard score to tie the game, and a pair of field goals for a 26-20 lead, holding on for a 26-23 win.
Alas, it wasn’t enough for Basanez, as the Bears went with two quarterbacks on the 53. The team signed Basanez to the practice squad two days later, where he spent nearly the entire season, with no regular season action.
10. DAVID FALES, 2014
- Stats vs. Browns: 13-24, 146 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
- Outcome: Bears lose 33-13 (video and stats)
- Other Bears QBs this game: none
- Fales 2014 regular season stats: zero games played
With Cutler and Clausen locked in as starter and backup, the Bears gave the start to rookie David Fales, who played the entire game. Ugh. The team lost 33-13, but Fales did enough for the team to add him to the initial 53-man roster. He moved between the 53 and the practice squad, and did not see any regular season action.
11. KYLE ORTON, 2005
- Stats vs. Browns: 2-4, 60 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
- Outcome: Bears lose 16-6 (video and stats)
- Other Bears QBs this game: Jeff Blake (2-4, 60 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT), Kurt Kittner (8-13, 100 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT)
- Orton 2005 regular season stats: 10-5 in 15 games, 190-368, 1869 yards, 9 TD, 13 INT
The Bears drafted Orton in the 4th round of the 2005 draft as a backup for starter Grossman and presumed backup Chad Hutchinson, who played... decently... in the team’s quarterback catastrophe of 2004. But Grossman broke his left ankle in the 2nd preseason game, leading to an unexpected showdown between Hutchinson and Orton.
Orton outperformed Hutch, and when the smoke cleared, the team’s depth chart to start 2005 was Orton, veteran Jeff Blake, and journeyman Illini alumnus Kurt Kittner. Orton had an up-and-down rookie year, starting 15 games en route to a division championship, but losing his starting job at the end of the season to Grossman, who started the team’s playoff game.
12. REX GROSSMAN, 2007
- Stats vs. Browns: 1-1, 0 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
- Outcome: Bears lose 19-9 (stats)
- Other Bears QBs this game: Brian Griese (1-3, 12 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT), Kyle Orton (12-19, 102 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT), Chris Leak (11-16, 88 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT)
- Grossman 2007 regular season stats: 2-5 in 8 games, 122-225, 1411 yards, 4 TD, 7 INT
After producing the franchise’s fourth 16-game season for a quarterback (following Vince Evans in 1981, Jim Harbaugh in 1991, and Erik Kramer in 1995 — thank you for the correction, Doshi!) and leading the team to a Super Bowl, Grossman was locked in as starter heading into 2007. It didn’t last. By the 4th game of the season, backup Brian Griese was starting, and the team flipped back and forth from there between Griese, Grossman, and eventually Kyle Orton, who then won the starting job against Grossman in 2008.
13. REX GROSSMAN, 2004
- Stats vs. Browns: 2-9, 31 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
- Outcome: Bears lose 24-10 (stats)
- Other Bears QBs this game: Craig Krenzel (6-17, 79 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT)
- Grossman 2004 regular season stats: 1-2 in 3 games, 47-84, 607 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT
The 2nd-year Grossman entered 2004 as the team’s new starter, getting a quick — if ineffective — final tuneup against the Browns. He played the first three series plus one pass in the fourth before giving way to the rookie Krenzel.
In the team’s 3rd game, Grossman was lost for the season with a knee injury, with veteran backup Jonathan Quinn getting the call to start ahead of Krenzel. Quinn was historically bad, Krenzel was decent replacing him, and new quarterback Chad Hutchinson was... better than decent, I guess, in replacing Krenzel.
All of this led to a dynamite 10-years-later story in Pro Football Weekly by Kevin Fishbain, which almost makes the 2004 Bears worth it.
And that’s all I have to say about that.