Bears starters made impact plays on both sides of the ball early and often in Thursday night's preseason game against the San Diego Chargers at Soldier Field.
With Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall flashing their big-play ability and a ball-hawking defense playing takeaway, the Bears led 14-0 when their No. 1 units exited after four series apiece.
|Click to view photos from the Bears' 33-28 victory over the San Diego Chargers.|
The margin climbed to 20-0 late in the second quarter, but the Bears had to quell a Chargers rally in the second half before ultimately escaping with a 33-28 victory.
"We really wanted to focus on the first quarter tonight, with the majority of the guys who are going to be with us, quite frankly, and maybe a little bit into the second quarter," said coach Marc Trestman. "I thought we started out well."
Forte rushed for 74 yards and one touchdown on eight carries in the first quarter. His 58-yard run around left end on the Bears' second possession of the game sparked the offense, setting up Jay Cutler's five-yard touchdown pass to Marshall on the next play.
"I think that you can see that we wanted to make sure that part of our philosophy tonight was to allow our guys to come off the line of scrimmage to see where we were up front first, and giving Matt an opportunity to assert himself," Trestman said.
"I thought the guys up front and in the perimeter—our perimeter blocking was very good as well—were able to break some runs and that's an important start for our offense to gain confidence necessary to run the football first at Soldier Field and throughout the league we play."
Targeting Marshall on all five of his pass attempts, Cutler completed four to the Pro Bowl receiver for 38 yards. The other throw was intercepted by linebacker Donald Butler at the San Diego 6, one play after Bears safety Chris Conte had made a diving interception at the Chargers' 34.
Marshall indicated that he was not the primary receiver on all five pass plays.
"They just left me open, so Jay came to me," said Marshall, who set a Bears record with 118 catches last season. "He went through his progressions and I was the guy that got the ball tonight."
The Bears generated four takeaways in the first half, giving them eight in the first six quarters of the preseason. The second one Friday night came when Shea McClellin sacked quarterback Phillip Rivers, forcing a fumble that Major Wright recovered at the San Diego 35.
The Bears converted the turnover into Forte's three-yard touchdown run, widening the margin to 14-0 late in the first quarter. The two rookies who started on the right side of the offensive line, guard Kyle Long and tackle Jordan Mills, both threw key blocks on the play.
Even with their starters on the bench, the Bears continued to take the ball away. On back-to-back possessions, Keenan Allen muffed a punt that Blake Costanzo recovered at the Chargers' 26 and defensive tackle Corvey Irvin recovered a botched snap at the San Diego 13.
The Bears turned both takeaways into short Robbie Gould field goals, increasing their lead to 20-0.
The Chargers climbed to within 20-14 on Charlie Whitehurst's 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ladarius Green early in the third quarter. But undrafted rookie free agent Michael Ford returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to the San Diego 4.
Two plays later, backup running back Michael Bush's three-yard TD run made it 27-14. With Bush gaining 37 yards on 11 carries and Ford adding 28 yards on 15 attempts, the Bears rushed for 143 yards on 37 carries while their three quarterbacks combined to pass for only 64 yards.
Backup Josh McCown exited in the second half but had to return to the game after third-stringer Matt Blanchard was forced to leave with a fractured knuckle on his left hand. With Blanchard out indefinitely, the Bears are expected to sign a quarterback in the next few days.
The Chargers outgained the Bears 135-41 in the second half, eventually closing to within 27-21 and 30-28. But Gould provided the game's final points by kicking his fourth field goal without a miss, a 48-yarder, with :46 remaining in the fourth quarter.