A dominant performance across the board by the Bears' special teams unit was a key factor in Thursday night's 33-28 preseason win over the Chargers at Soldier Field.
Three key plays led directly to 13 points. Rookie Michael Ford's 100-yard kickoff return to the San Diego 4 set up Michael Bush's three-yard touchdown run, while Robbie Gould kicked 23- and 28-yard field goals after Blake Costanzo recovered a muffed punt and J.T. Thomas blocked a punt.
"Special teams really set the tone," coach Marc Trestman said after the Bears improved to 1-1 in preseason action. "They were physical, tackled, created turnovers."
The Bears did all that and more. Gould made all four field goals he attempted, including a 48-yarder with :46 remaining that forced the Chargers to score a touchdown to win the game.
The kickoff coverage unit was exceptional, preventing the Chargers from reaching the 20-yard line on three of four kickoff returns. Tackles were made by Costanzo at the San Diego 18, Thomas and Isaiah Frey at the 14 and Terrence Toliver at the 13.
"We have great players here, guys that love special teams, love going out there and competing," Costanzo said. "We have Joe D. (special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis) firing us up. Our young guys made a lot of plays tonight, especially Mike running the ball. We're just going to keep getting better and hopefully take it into the season."
Costanzo's eyes lit up when the ball caromed right to him after Chargers punt returner Keenan Allen failed to secure it on a second-quarter Adam Podlesh punt.
"You've got to get the ball when it's out there," Costanzo said. "Many times in my career I've seen the ball and I try to go get it. It's just fun. The preseason's fun, especially to see the younger guys making good plays and big plays. It's just great for them."
Costanzo really enjoyed watching Ford's 100-yard kickoff return. Last season the LSU product ranked second in the SEC in kickoff returns, averaging 27.5 yards on 20 returns. Ford had four kickoff returns of 40 yards or longer, including an 86-yarder that set up a TD against Arkansas.
"He just hits it, man," Costanzo said. "There's no razzle-dazzle. He just hits it and he's been doing great for us and I think that's going to help us coming into the season. Teams are going to have to prepare for him. We've got Devin [Hester], and we're just going to keep getting better and we're going to be good this season."