When it comes to preseason openers, the only real winners are those who don’t have to participate.
That being said, the Bears did have some players who emerged as winners -- and some losers as well -- in Thursday night’s 17-16 loss to the Ravens in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.
The rookie outside linebacker lived in the Ravens’ backfield from the get-go, and by the end of the first quarter was seeing some double-team blocks. He still pressured Robert Griffin III three times and then sacked Josh Woodrum late in the second quarter. On the Ravens’ next possession, Fitts flushed Woodrum into a sack by Bears DL Nick Williams. Fitts fell to the sixth round because he had an injury-marred career at Utah, but the Bears loved his pass-rush traits and his production when he was healthy.
Improving the outside pass rush was an offseason priority and, with starter Leonard Floyd being brought along carefully following knee surgery, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is looking for another threat. He may have found it in the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Fitts. Though he’s viewed as more of a pass-rush specialist, Fitts was matched up in coverage with WR Tim White late in the second quarter and brought him down after a one-yard gain.
When it wasn’t Fitts getting after the Ravens’ quarterbacks, it was Irving, the second-year player who went undrafted out of San Jose State last year but played in seven games with the Bears after being promoted from the practice squad.
The 6-foot-3, 254-pound Irving had a sack and forced fumble wiped out early because he jumped the snap count, but on the Ravens’ next possession, he sacked RG3, which forced Baltimore to settle for a field goal. Irving also made an impressive open-field tackle on the shifty Griffin, holding him to a two-yard gain
The backup safety picked off a Griffin pass that went through the hands of intended receiver Breshad Perriman and then deflected off Bears CB Michael Joseph. On a team that has had a franchise low of eight interceptions in each of the past three seasons, any pick is worth noting. Houston-Carson carved out a niche on special teams last year, but he and fellow 2016 draft picks Deon Bush and Deiondre’ Hall are all jockeying for position on the depth chart behind starters Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos.
Honorable mention: WR Javon Wims. The seventh-round pick from Georgia caught seven passes for 89 yards.
The backup quarterback was intercepted twice and nearly picked off a third time, although there were extenuating circumstances on both picks. He also had a crisp four-yard TD pass to FB Michael Burton that gave the Bears a 7-0 lead but finished 8 of 16 for 53 yards and a 38.8 passer rating.
The first pick bounced off the helmet of the Bears’ second-year OG Jordan Morgan, who had been pushed back off the line of scrimmage by Michael Pierce, a 13-game starter for the Ravens last year. The second interception, by Kamalei Correa, was thrown behind TE Dion Sims.
The fourth-year veteran wide receiver is an excellent special-teams player, but he still faces an uphill battle for a roster spot behind Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel and Kevin White. Fowler had an opportunity to make a huge play on the Bears’ opening drive when he dove for a Chase Daniel pass in the end zone but was unable to hold on to the ball when he hit the ground. There was no excuse for his drop in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, Josh Bellamy, who is also a standout special-teams player and could be competing with Fowler for the final WR spot, caught two passes on the first possession, including a 26-yard pickup.
The Bears’ best-blocking tight end was flagged for a holding penalty near the end of the first quarter. He also may have been partially to blame for Daniel’s second interception. Sims had settled into an open spot in the middle of the field but then shifted his position slightly just before Daniel threw. Chalk that one up to miscommunication.