If the Bears had any doubts about the luxury of keeping Josh McCown as their third quarterback, the 10-year veteran's play against the Browns on Thursday night should have made up their minds.
In an otherwise meaningless game where none of the Bears' regulars were in the starting lineup, McCown played well start to finish in a 28-20 victory. He orchestrated impressive drives on each of the Bears' first two possessions, even though the second was just one play.
On his first possession, McCown drove the Bears to the Browns' 17-yard line, but Robbie Gould uncharacteristically hooked a 35-yard field-goal attempt way wide left. But one play after undrafted rookie safety Jeremy Jones picked off Colts quarterback Colt McCoy and returned it to the Cleveland 30, McCown put the Bears ahead 7-0. He hit a diving Dane Sanzenbacher, who was tightly covered but hung on after making a one-handed catch.
"He has great hands," Bears coach Lovie Smith said of Sanzenbacher. "He had a good camp. We expect him to make those kinds of plays."
Sanzenbacher was fourth on the team with 27 catches last season as an undrafted rookie but still faced another tough fight for a roster spot this year, although his chances improved with the Wednesday release of veteran wide receiver Rashied Davis.
"I like to think coaches have already made 90 percent of the roster decisions," Sanzenbacher said. "But it's nice to give them a little push."
After a short Browns punt, McCown led the Bears on another TD drive, capping it with an 11-yard dart on a quick slant to running back Armando Allen with 4:19 remaining in the first half.
McCown, who completed 9 of 17 passes for 88 yards in the first three preseason games, finished Thursday night's game 20 of 29 for 157 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
Without Matt Forte or Michael Bush playing, Lorenzo Booker and Allen got extensive opportunities in their battle for the No. 3 job.
Not much was separating them through the first three preseason games. Both contribute on special teams, and Booker had a 105-yard kickoff-return touchdown in the second game.
"They're both very close," special teams coordinator Dave Toub said heading into the preseason finale. "That is one of the (better) battles that we're having. That's going to come to a head here."
For most of the game, Booker fared much better running the ball, and he finished with 81 yards on 15 carries for a 5.4-yard average, but he left midway through the fourth quarter with a head injury and did not return.
Allen was more productive catching the ball, with 5 catches for 51 yards, including the TD, while Booker had 4 catches for 16 yards. Allen struggled on the ground for much of the evening and had just 35 yards on 15 carries late in the fourth quarter. With Booker finished for the evening, it was left to Allen to kill the clock and he appeared to be exhausted in the huddle as the two-minute warning approached.
But, on his 16th carry, Allen burst through a hole at the line of scrimmage and bolted 49 yards to finish with 83 yards and a 5.2-yard average.
"It was a pretty decent performance," Allen said. "I'm my own worst critic, but overall I think I had a pretty good game."
Now it's up to the coaching staff to decide who stays and who goes.