EditorsNote: minor edits throughout
Howard, Bears rush past winless Browns
CHICAGO — Even as the Bears wind down a difficult season, Chicago found plenty of ways to take advantage of the hapless Cleveland Browns.
Jordan Howard rushed for two touchdowns, rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky ran for a score, and the Bears kept error-prone Cleveland winless with a 20-3 victory on Sunday at snowy Soldier Field.
If the Browns (0-15) lose their finale next week at Pittsburgh, they would join the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only NFL teams to go 0-16. With the defeat against Chicago, Cleveland secured the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Trubisky, from Mentor, Ohio, connected on 14 of 23 passes for 193 yards and rushed for 44 yards as he met his hometown team for the first time. Cleveland passed on drafting him with the No. 1 overall pick earlier this year.
The rookie got rolling in the second half after an apparent Cleveland interception and touchdown were erased by a Browns penalty.
“To play in the snow on Christmas Eve against your hometown team, it’s kind of a dream come true,” Trubisky said. “It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed every moment.
“I soaked it in with all my teammates.”
Howard’s touchdowns were his eighth and ninth this season, and the second-year running back has four in his past three games.
Against Cleveland, chances figured to materialize for the 23-year-old Howard and his teammates.
“There aren’t a lot of holes,” Howard said, “but you’ve to be patient and know that something is going to break eventually.”
Zane Gonzalez’s 48-yard field goal just before halftime accounted for all the scoring for the Browns, who entered the game as the first NFL team to open consecutive seasons 0-14.
“We can’t make enough plays to win a game yet,” Cleveland coach Hue Jackson said. “I never saw this being this way in two years here.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve been through in my whole life. Right now we’re going to take the lumps and we deserve them.”
Jackson, however, said he didn’t plan to make big changes for next week’s game against the Steelers.
“I’m going to be very consistent with this group,” Jackson said. “We just have to do things better.”
The defense of the Bears (5-10) erased two prime scoring chances for the Browns.
Cleveland rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer’s pass was intercepted by cornerback Kyle Fuller in the end zone late in the second quarter, then Browns wide receiver Rashard Higgins was forced into a fumble by linebacker Danny Trevathan just short of the goal line in the third.
Kizer completed 18 of 36 passes for 182 yards and was intercepted twice.
Both teams kept their games close to the ground at Soldier Field until Trubisky started connecting the second half. The stadium, which has 61,500 seats for football, was only about half full with game-time temperature of 24 degrees.
Chicago led 6-3 at halftime.
Howard found a seam and dashed in for a touchdown from the 2-yard line late in the first quarter to cap a nine-play, 57-yard drive and give the Bears a 6-0 lead. Cleveland’s Carl Nassib blocked Mike Nugent’s extra-point attempt.
After connecting on just one his first seven passes, Kizer hit on five consecutive attempts during an 11-play march late in the second quarter that moved the Browns to the Chicago 28-yard line. However, Kizer’s throw intended for Josh Gordon was intercepted in the end zone by Fuller with 2:04 left in the half.
“I threw the ball with some anticipation and the corner(back) made a good play on the ball and brought it down himself,” Kizer said.
The Browns managed to close it to 6-3 on Gonzalez’s field goal with six seconds left. The kick was set up after Kizer hit Ricardo Louis for a 35-yard pass.
It looked as if Cleveland jumped ahead on the first play of the second half when Trubisky’s pass intended for Howard was intercepted by Myles Garrett and run back for a touchdown.
However, an offside by Nassib negated the score, and Chicago came back four plays and 2:37 later to make it 13-3.
“This thing is always about momentum, shifts and changes,” Chicago coach John Fox said. “Obviously that was a big win in our favor.”
And another blow that doomed the Browns.
“It’s kind of like a double-edged sword,” Jackson said. “When you get those plays, the other team is going to turn around and make a play.”
Howard found daylight and ran the ball in from 16 yards to cap the drive. The play was set up by Trubisky’s pass to Benny Cunningham that netted 40 yards.
Trubisky ran in the Bears third touchdown from 4 yards out with 3:27 left in the third to finish a 12-play, 66-yard march. After the rookie and several teammates celebrated by making snow angels in the end zone, Nugent’s extra point stretched Chicago’s lead to 20-3.
Higgins caught Kizer’s pass the final minute of the third but fumbled it at the 3-yard line when it was knocked away by Trevathan.
NOTES: Cleveland’s lone win last season came on Christmas Eve against the then-San Diego Chargers. ... UCLA QB Josh Rosen would rather play for the New York Giants as opposed to the Browns, according to an ESPN report. Rosen said he would be hesitant to come out in the 2018 NFL Draft if he knew Cleveland would select him with the No. 1 overall pick. .. Bears TE Zach Miller returned to Soldier Field on Sunday as he continues to recover from an injury that nearly cost him his left leg. Miller walked to the sidelines and addressed the crowd in an interview shown on the video board. He has undergone eight surgeries since sustaining a torn artery while dislocating his knee trying to make a touchdown catch in New Orleans in late October. ... Inactives for Cleveland included CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun (knee), WR Matt Hazel (hamstring), CB Jamar Taylor (foot). Chicago’s inactives included G Josh Sitton (ankle), T Tom Compton (concussion) and TE Adam Shaheen (chest).