- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Chicago's starters dominated San Diego's No. 1's in the first quarter, scoring 14 points while limiting the Chargers to none as the Bears walked away with a 33-28 victory.
Here are a few quick thoughts on the game:
What it means: Progress that the Bears will be ecstatic about taking into their third preseason game, which is typically considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season. After a so-so performance in the exhibition opener against the Carolina Panthers, the Bears put on somewhat of a show offensively for the home crowd by scoring 14 points against San Diego's starters in the first quarter.
In rolling up 100 yards in the quarter, the Bears gained six first downs, converted two of three third downs and finished the quarter with a 100 percent efficiency rating in the red zone. Jay Cutler was 4-of-5 for 38 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but it is somewhat concerning that he fired every one of those passes to Brandon Marshall.
Defensively, the Bears sacked Philip Rivers twice and forced two turnovers in the first quarter, while limiting the Chargers to three first downs and a 33 percent conversion rate on third downs.
OL picture clearer? Not really. Or maybe now it's crystal clear. Rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills ratcheted up the difficulty for veterans James Brown and J'Marcus Webb to retain their starting jobs. Running with the starters for the first time this preseason, Long and Mills held down the right side of Chicago's line against San Diego's starters, and kept Cutler's jersey sparkling clean all night. Although Cutler suffered two sacks in the first quarter, neither of them came from pressure off the right side of the line.
The telling moment for the rookies came near the end of the first quarter. Holding possession at the San Diego 11 with 1:32 remaining in the first quarter, the Bears handed off to Matt Forte three times in a row behind Mills and Long. With the rookies leading the way -- not to mention laying fierce blocks -- Forte gained 11 yards on those three carries, and capped a four-play scoring drive with a 3-yard touchdown that put the Bears up 14-0 after Robbie Gould's extra-point kick.
Going into last week, Bears coach Marc Trestman said it was part of the plan to play Long and Mills with the starters against the Chargers. It appears those rookies might stick in the starting lineup, while Webb's roster spot could be in jeopardy given the fact the club has other alternatives at right tackle in veterans Eben Britton and Jonathan Scott.
Speaking of the O-line: The group played fairly well for the limited amount of snaps the offense played in the first quarter. Sure, Cutler absorbed two sacks. The first came due to a missed block by tight end Martellus Bennett. Technically, Bennett is a member of the offensive line, but he wasn't considered among the team's concerns about pass protection coming into the game. The second sack Cutler absorbed came partially as a result of the quarterback holding the ball too long, but he also shuffled into his own linemen and San Diego's rush. On the play, both the right side and left side provided adequate protection.
Forte gets going early: Forte chipped away at the notion he can't get it done on the goal line by running three times in a row from the 11 for gains of 6 and 2 yards before scoring on a 3-yard touchdown. The old regime seemed to believe Forte couldn't grind it out in short-yardage situations. So it was refreshing to see the new staff show confidence in the running back, who ultimately might wind up having to carry this team.
Forte finished with 74 yards on eight attempts, including a 58-yard burst on a toss toward the visitor's sideline in which he made a defender miss in space to gain extra yardage. The run set up the club's first touchdown.
Locked on Marshall: Cutler completed four of five passes with a touchdown and an interception in limited action with a passer rating of 98.3. On the surface, those numbers look respectable. But it seems a tad concerning that every one of Cutler's throws against the Chargers traveled Marshall's direction.
Cutler hit Marshall on a pinpoint back-shoulder throw for the club's first touchdown of the night from 5 yards out to cap a seven-play drive spanning 84 yards in 3 minutes, 45 seconds. Cutler never looked at any other receiver on the play, but that might be of little consequence due to play design (maybe the pass was designed to come out quickly) and the fact it was a touchdown.
Cutler's interception with 5:31 left in the first quarter seemed more telling. Cutler threw the ball down the deep middle of the field with Marshall bracketed in coverage with one defender over the top of him and one underneath.
Hester still has it: Maybe specializing exclusively on returns was the right move for the Bears and Devin Hester. Hester caught the game's opening kickoff 8-yards deep in Chicago's end zone, and busted it 45 yards to set up the Bears at the 37.
Coming into the season, there seemed to be questions about whether Hester had lost a step. It certainly didn't look like it Thursday night.
D-line is deep: The Bears sat starting defensive linemen Julius Peppers (hamstring) and Henry Melton (concussion), but the defense suffered no ill effects. Young defensive ends Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin each notched first-quarter sacks of Rivers, with one of the sacks resulting in a turnover.
Wootton dropped Rivers for a 9-yard loss with 6:15 left in the first quarter. McClellin, a first-round pick in 2012, sacked Rivers and knocked the ball loose with safety Major Wright scooping up the fumble. That turnover led to Forte's 3-yard TD run.
Early in the second quarter, reserve defensive tackle Nate Collins joined the sack party when he stuffed Rivers for a 6-yard loss on third down to end a San Diego drive.
Same ol' D: The Bears forced four turnovers in the exhibition opener at Carolina, and the starting defense basically picked up where it left off against the Chargers. Safety Chris Conte picked off a Rivers pass intended for Keenan Allen in the first quarter, and Wright recovered a fumble forced by McClellin.
What's next: With training camp now over, the Bears return to Halas Hall on Monday where they will begin preparation for an Aug. 23 road matchup against the Oakland Raiders.