As expected, Jay Cutler's night ended early Friday at Soldier Field, his last pass of the Bears' exhibition opener a 10-yard back-shoulder dart to Zach Miller in the back of the end zone.

Decisive read. Strong throw. Touchdown.

It was just the kind of play Bears optimists needed in a 34-28 exhibition victory over the Eagles to justify their growing hope for the regular season.

But when Cutler went to the bench late in the first quarter, the stage cleared for backup quarterback competition between Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen that promises plenty of drama for the rest of August.

Both players had their moments, the Bears' longest pass coming from Clausen on a 73-yard third-quarter touchdown toss to Chris Williams, who blurred past the Eagles secondary. Yet there also were the predictable flashes of indecision and inconsistency from both contenders, reminders of the Bears' inexperience behind Cutler.

Like Cutler, Palmer's final pass Friday night was a touchdown toss to Miller, this one covering 12 yards and completing a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive that provided some positive energy to carry forward. Palmer kept that march alive with a decisive 14-yard completion to Miller on third-and-2.

He finished the night with eight completions in 11 attempts, passing for 104 yards, numbers that certainly register as acceptable. Palmer's five series produced seven points.

His second possession ended with an interception by Eagles safety Nate Allen on a deep ball toward Williams. Linebacker Brandon Graham hit Palmer as he threw, the result of a protection breakdown against the blitz. And Palmer almost had a second turnover on the next possession when he double-clutched in the pocket and was blasted at his own 9 just as his arm was coming forward for an incompletion.

Clausen? He ran four second-half drives, going 7-for-13 for 150 yards and producing 17 points. His first scoring drive, after a Khaseem Greene fumble recovery, netted only 2 yards on three plays, including a second down incompletion to Micheal Spurlock that would have been an 8-yard touchdown pass if Clausen had led Spurlock.

But Clausen later made up for that miss, first with the touchdown toss to Williams and later with a 22-yard scoring strike to Spurlock, a throw he made with great composure after going through his progressions.

The Bears have asserted their desire for a No. 2 quarterback who understands the nuances of the offense and protects the football. And both Palmer and Clausen will need to continue progressing on each front as the preseason unfolds.

dwiederer@tribune.com

Twitter @danwiederer