Rookie QBs square off as Bears host Browns
CHICAGO — Mitchell Trubisky grew up in Mentor, Ohio, about 25 miles outside of Cleveland.
The future Chicago Bears quarterback liked the Cleveland Browns as a child but did not love them. He described his fondness for the hometown team as “moderate.” His true passion was playing football, not watching it on television.
“It’s a big football area, so growing up, it was just picking up a football and going outside and playing and dreaming of being in the NFL someday,” Trubisky said this week at the Bears’ practice facility. “That’s what it was for me. My goal was get to this point, and now that I’m here, it’s just to get better every day.”
Trubisky’s next opportunity will arrive Sunday afternoon when Chicago (4-10) hosts the Browns (0-14) at Soldier Field. The game carries no playoff implications but could affect draft positioning as well as future jobs for coaches and players.
An unwanted piece of history could be on the line, too. Cleveland needs one win in its final two games to avoid joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams in NFL history to lose 16 games in a regular season.
The Browns’ only victory in 2016 was on Christmas Eve against the then-San Diego Chargers. Could another holiday gift be in store?
“I don’t want to dive into that because that was a year ago,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said this week. “This team is different. This team is, I hate to say it, is younger. The guys that are playing now (are) a younger team.”
That includes Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who grew up in Toledo, a couple hours east of where Trubisky used to play outside and dream of turning pro. Kizer showed great promise at Notre Dame but has struggled badly in Cleveland with a 59.4 passer rating (2,398 yards, nine touchdowns, 19 interceptions).
“Are there some scars there? You better know there are,” Jackson said. “But there have been many other players before him that have been in some similar situations that have had the same scars, maybe not to this extent, but they’ve had them. And they find a way to come back out of them and have great careers. That’s what we anticipate from him.
“If he couldn’t handle it, we wouldn’t stick him back out there. I truly believe that he can.”
Trubisky has fared better, but like Kizer, he is far from a finished product. The North Carolina alum has a 77.8 passer rating (1,822 yards, seven TDs, seven interceptions) while rushing for 202 yards and a touchdown. In his most recent game against the Detroit Lions, he completed 31 of 46 pass attempts for 314 yards — all season highs — but was hounded by three interceptions.
The matchup of rookie quarterbacks offers an element of intrigue to an otherwise unattractive matchup. The Bears have lost five of their past six games to ensure their fourth consecutive season with double-digit losses. The Browns have dropped double-digit games nine times in the past 10 seasons and have not reached the playoffs since 2002.
The Bears hope to end on a high note in their home finale. They are 2-5 on the lakefront this season under coach John Fox, whose job security is tenuous at best with a 13-33 record since he joined the team in 2015.
Chicago running back Jordan Howard has provided a bright spot as he has rushed for 1,069 yards and seven touchdowns. Leading wide receiver Kendall Wright has 50 catches for 558 yards and a touchdown.
For Cleveland, running back Isaiah Crowell has rushed for 788 yards and two touchdowns and will do his part to help Kizer. Running back Duke Johnson has 61 catches for 537 yards and three touchdowns. The game also will mark the fourth contest in the comeback of wide receiver Josh Gordon, who has 12 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown in his return.
On defense, the Bears are led by Akiem Hicks, who has eight sacks but was passed over this week during Pro Bowl selections. Rookie safety Eddie Jackson leads the unit with a pair of interceptions.
Cleveland is led on defense by rookie defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017, who has recorded five sacks in nine games. Cornerback Jason McCourty leads the team with three interceptions.
With a win, the Bears would complete a season sweep of the AFC North.
Cleveland is visiting Chicago for the first time since 2009, when the Bears cruised to a 30-6 victory behind a pair of touchdowns from running back Matt Forte.