By Fred Mitchell, Tribune reporter
10:13 PM CDT, August 15, 2013
Jay Cutler was reunited with Brandon Marshall on Thursday night and the pair connected on four passes and a touchdown in the first half of the Bears' 33-28 preseason victory over the Chargers at Soldier Field.
The best-laid plans to spread the ball around to more receivers was not realized as Marshall was the only receiver who caught a pass from Cutler.
Cutler completed 4 of 5 passes for 38 yards and one touchdown. He was intercepted once and sacked twice to wind up with a passer rating of 98.3.
Matt Forte rushed for 74 yards on eight carries and a touchdown. He had a long run of 58 yards.
Third-string quarterback Matt Blanchard suffered an injury to his left hand in the second half and departed for X-rays. Bears defensive end Corey Irvin left with an ankle injury.
Things got off to a rocky start for Cutler and the first-team offense, with Cutler twice being sacked as the unit went three-and-out on its first possession. But things clicked the next time the Bears got the ball.
Set up by the 58-yard run by Forte, Cutler hit Marshall for a 5-yard TD toss and a 7-0 lead with 6:58 left in the first quarter.
Marshall was making his 2013 preseason debut after his off-season hip surgery. The ability of the offensive line to do its job will impact the effectiveness of Cutler to get the ball to Marshall and as many of the other receivers as possible.
The defense was back to its ball-hawking ways, with safety Chris Conte intercepting a Phillip Rivers pass and returning it to the Chargers 34, where he was ruled down by contact.
But Cutler continued his erratic tendencies, going back to Marshall on the Bears' first play after the turnover and getting picked off by the Chargers' Donald Butler at the San Diego 6.
The defense again got the ball back, with Shea McClellin forcing a Rivers fumble on a sack and safety Major Wright recovering on the Chargers 35.
That set up a TD drive capped by a three-yard Forte run for a 14-0 lead with 18 seconds left in the opening period.
Josh McCown replaced Cutler and other reserves took the field on the Bears' first offensive series of the second quarter. Cutler was 4-for-5 for 38 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked twice and intercepted once and had a passer rating of 98.3.
“We’re just trying to get better," coach Marc Trestman said of the first-team offense at halftime. "We were three-and-out to start the game. We didn’t look good. We got our composure; we came back and we got things in order. The defense is playing exceptionally well, relative to causing turnovers. Special teams has been very, very good so far. We’re not going to get too far ahead of ourselves. We’ve got things to build on.”
On the play of the right side of the line (rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills), Trestman said, "Not (a) good enough (vantage point) to really see. I thought it was good but to be specific from this point of view would be a little bit premature.”
McCown directed a seven-play, 23-yard drive that resulted in a 23-yard Robbie Gould field goal and a 17-0 lead with 5:05 left before halftime. The Bears got the ball when the Chargers' Keenan Allen muffed an Adam Podlesh punt and Blake Costanzo recovered at the San Diego 28.
Again the Bears defense got the ball back, with Irvin recovering a botched snap at the San Diego 13. Gould cashed in with a 25-yard field goal that caromed through off the left upright for a 20-0 lead with 3:25 left in the first half.
The Chargers finally got on the board with 39 seconds to play in the half on a 3-yard run by Fozzy Whttaker, and that was the score at intermission.
The start of the second half was notable for a bone-jarring hit by Bears linebacker Jonathan Bostic on receiver Mike Willie. But the Bears' Josh Lenz fumbled a punt return, setting up another Chargers TD as Charlie Whitehurst hit Ladarius Green on a 12-yard toss to make it 20-14. The Bears' Irvin had to be helped off the field on the play.
Rookie Michael Ford then electrified the crowd by taking the ensuing kickoff in the end zone and returning it 100 yards to the Chargers 3. That set up a four-yard TD run by Michael Bush for a 27-14 lead at the 11:16 mark of the third quarter.
After the Bears defense forced a punt, Blanchard replaced McCown at quarterback. Long and Mills also were removed from the lineup.
Blanchard couldn't move the offense and after a punt, the Chargers scored again on a 2-yard pass from Whitehurst to Willie to make it 27-21 with 4:18 left in the third quarter.
Blanchard suffered a left-hand injury and went in for X-rays, bringing McCown back into action.
The Bears' special teams delivered again when linebacker J.T. Thomas blocked a punt and recovered it, setting the Bears up at the Chargers 20 early in the fourth quarter. Gould kicked a 28-yard field goal to put the Bears up 30-21 with 10:18 to play.
But the Chargers wouldn't go away. Whitehurst again connected with Willie, this time a six-yard TD toss to cut the Bears' lead to 30-28 with 7:11 to play.
Gould gave the Bears some breathing room with a 48-yard field goal in the final minute.
Forte carried eight times for 74 yards. Although Forte's long run was to the left, Trestman was making a concerted effort to run plays to the right to test the young linemen, with Long making a nice block on Forte's TD run.
The Bears were coming off a 24-17 loss at Carolina last week, during which Cutler completed 6 of 8 passes for 56 yards. He threw an interception on his first play.
"The turnovers are something that I always pay attention to. I love it as a head coach; I am disappointed when it happens from an offensive standpoint," said Trestman, who was eager to make his Soldier Field debut as the Bears' head coach, albeit in a preseason game.
The Chargers also lost their first exhibition game, 31-10 to Seattle, under first-year head coach Mike McCoy.
San Diego came in with a 4-2 all-time preseason record against the Bears. The Chargers won the previous meeting, 25-10, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego in 2010.
The first mandatory roster cutdown date is Aug. 27, when teams have to trim to 75 players. The 53-man maximum cutdown date is Aug. 31.
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