By K.C. Johnson
Tribune staff reporter
August 8, 2005
That's a lot of greatness and tradition for a Bears franchise that is familiar with those concepts, even if it hasn't mastered them of late.Their exhibition opener at Fawcett Stadium offered a mixed bag of revival and rawness, ultimately ending with a 27-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins preserved by Jerrell Pippens' interception in the end zone with less than a minute to play.
Zack Abron's 4-yard touchdown run with 1 minute 50 seconds to play provided the winning points, disappointing the pro-Dolphins crowd of 22,292 in town to cheer Hall of Fame inductee Dan Marino.
Miami running back Ricky Williams' return to the NFL after a one-year retirement might've dominated the airwaves on the national telecast, but Rex Grossman's return to the air is what created the buzz back home.
Grossman, in his first action since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last Sept. 26, didn't play like Marino. But he did direct one scoring drive in four possessions with the first-string offense and finished 5-for-12 for 77 yards and a quarterback rating of 63.5.
Those numbers included a nifty 34-yard connection with free-agent signee Muhsin Muhammad that set up Thomas Jones' 1-yard scoring plunge with 8:14 left in the first quarter, giving the Bears a 7-0 lead.
"My knee feels great and I didn't feel anything at all because our offensive line did a great job and I didn't get touched that much," Grossman said. "I had a little bit of the butterflies, but one of my goals was not to get antsy in the pocket. I thought I did that."
Ron Turner's offense got off to an inauspicious start when the starting unit went three-and-out on the game's opening possession.
But on the next drive, Bernard Berrian aided his attempt to secure the No. 2 receiver spot with a leaping catch that turned a third-down play into a 23-yard gain. Back-to-back Miami penalties, including a pass-interference flag on cornerback Sam Madison that kept the drive alive, led to Grossman finding Muhammad for a 34-yard gain to the Miami 1.
Muhammad, who later showed more athleticism by breaking up a Travares Tillman near-interception on a Grossman underthrow, froze Miami cornerback Reggie Howard with a hesitation move.
"I thought I scored on it," Muhammad said.
Berrian later dropped a catchable ball on a slant pattern that would've provided a first down on a third-and-7. But between Jones' 47 yards on 10 carries, Muhammad's sparkling debut and Grossman exiting with his health intact, optimism abounded on offense.
"We missed some big opportunities," Grossman said. "But we moved the ball decently. It was a good start."
The No. 1 defense surrendered just three points on five Miami possessions and featured sacks by Adewale Ogunleye and Brian Urlacher, the latter knocking starting A.J. Feeley out on the next-to-last snap of the first quarter.
Forced to step up in the pocket by pressure from Alex Brown, Feeley was buried by Urlacher and injured his left gluteus muscle. But the Bears' defense missed a chance for an even bigger play when linebacker Lance Briggs whiffed on a sack attempt that would've dropped backup quarterback Gus Frerotte for a safety.
Frerotte instead completed a 44-yard pass play to Chris Chambers despite pass interference by Nathan Vasher. With Jerry Azumah out following arthroscopic hip surgery, Vasher committed two pass-interference penalties, one of which was declined.
The second wasn't, costing the Bears 23 yards on a Frerotte attempt to Chambers that led to Olindo Mare's 33-yard field goal with 9:19 left in the second quarter.
"We played well against the run and did well in the eight-man front, but we have to get takeaways," Urlacher said.
Just as in last year's exhibition opener, penalties were a problem. The Bears committed 11 overall for 96 yards.
Miami went up 24-13 when linebacker Jason Glenn intercepted a badly throw ball by rookie Kyle Orton and returned it 26 yards with 10:30 remaining.
But Orton looked impressive overall, connecting with Carl Ford on a 43-yard scoring bomb with 7:23 left and connecting with rookie wideout Mark Bradley on back-to-back completions of 43 and 26 yards.
Bradley finished with five catches for a Hall of Fame Game-record 131 yards, posting one-half the total of 100-yard receiving games the Bears had all last season.
"Overall, I think our offense had good drives," coach Lovie Smith said. "We're pleased with that."
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