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Chargers beat Bears, 25-10
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SAN DIEGO – Antonio Gates caught a pass on the game’s first play, Ryan Mathews found room to run near the sideline and Legedu Naanee hauled in a touchdown pass.
San Diego welcomed the NFL preseason to Qualcomm Stadium with a flurry of first-quarter action, scoring a touchdown on Philip Rivers’ second and final series and smacking Bears quarterback Jay Cutler twice to stall a Chicago drive.
It won’t count toward their quest for a fifth consecutive AFC West championship, but the Chargers kicked off the preseason with a 25-10 win, treating fans to renditions of “San Diego Super Chargers” and touching off good emotions as the crowd of 55,837 streamed back onto I-8 to await more football in seven days.
“The first time you go out and play, guys are excited. I was pleased with our emotion. I was very pleased with how physical we were,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “We made a big effort to get after the quarterback and that showed. Our runners did a good job running the football, and with our offensive line, it’s going to be exciting.”
The Bears were the first to gain traction on offense, skipping into San Diego territory with a pair of completions to Johnny Knox. But free agent signee Donald Strickland rifled off the right edge to sack Cutler from behind. The next play, good coverage on third-and-long forced Cutler to scramble and Kevin Burnett tracked him down before he could churn upfield.
Strickland again blitzed from the right edge to impart a blindside hit on backup quarterback Caleb Hanie in the second quarter, nearly causing an interception downfield.
Paul Oliver intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble forced by Antwan Applewhite.
A cranky, disruptive Chargers defense forced two turnovers and sacked Bears quarterbacks six times. Linebacker Brandon Lang tacked on a blocked punt on special teams for a safety.
“We came out and set the tone. We were definitely physical. We tackled well and gave up just the one big play up the field,” said Eric Weddle, who assisted on three tackles. “It’s encouraging. We still have a lot of work to do but it is definitely something we can build on.”
It was enough to protect a 14-10 lead San Diego built at the end of the first half, answering Chicago’s only touchdown drive with a clock-controlling possession of their own.
Billy Volek led a 14-play, 56-yard drive that ended in a celebratory cannon shot. Following an equally long Bears drive that gave Chicago the lead, Volek eluded linebacker Matt Mayberry to find Josh Reed camped in space 19 yards downfield.
A pass interference penalty induced by Randy McMichael allowed San Diego to set up a power run from the 1-yard line. Mike Tolbert plowed into the end zone behind lead back Jacob Hester as the Chargers took a 14-10 lead with :20 left in the first half.
The first offense also broke the plane courtesy of a well-placed pass from Rivers.
Set up by a 51-yard kickoff return by Richard Goodman, Rivers pumped left to keep a safety away from Legedu Naanee and then floated a 28-yard touchdown pass to the receiver in the right corner of the East end zone to put the Chargers up 7-3.
“It was a great catch. It came up just like it came up a few times in practice,” Rivers said. “And Buster (Davis) had a huge catch on third down prior to that.”
Despite the play, Rivers found things to improve upon.
“We came out and I missed two throws early, and we had a goal of not getting any penalties and we ended up getting a couple. It waas nice to get a touchdown and it was nice to get Ryan (Mathews) a couple of carries; also Legedu (Naanee) and (Antonio) Gates. I would’ve liked to get Malcom (Floyd) a catch too.”
San Diego held up well at left tackle and in the running game, two focal points of the offseason.
Brandyn Dombrowski played two series at left tackle before giving way to Tyronne Green. Former Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers didn’t have much luck dictating Rivers’ movement in the pocket in limited work.
The Chargers first defense trotted out Antonio Garay at nose guard, flanked by Jacques Cesaire and Luis Castillo. The group held their own up front as the defense conceded little real estate to Matt Forté, Chester Taylor and company. San Diego limited Chicago running backs to 1.9 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, Mathews got to work after plunging up the gut for three yards on his initial carry in Chargers blue. He averaged 7.1 yards per carry after his initial foray into the teeth of an NFL defense and led all players with 61 all-purpose yards in the first half.