Bears got stomped on.
September 9, 2007
Costly mistakes sink Bears in season-opening loss
By Larry Mayer
SAN DIEGO – A superb performance by an inspired Bears defense against the NFL’s highest scoring team last season and its MVP running back went for naught Sunday in San Diego.
The Bears shut out the Chargers for nearly three quarters and held LaDainian Tomlinson to just 25 yards on 17 carries, his second-lowest output in 96 career games.
Rex Grossman unloads under pressure during Sunday's 14-3 loss to the San Diego Chargers.
But Chicago was unable to overcome four turnovers—three by a struggling offense that generated just 202 total yards and failed to get into the end zone—in a 14-3 season-opening loss to the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.
“We knew coming in we were playing a good football team,” said coach Lovie Smith. “Especially on the road you have to stay away from turnovers; you have to win the turnover ratio. We weren’t able to do that.
“I liked the way we played defense early. We played with energy. I liked the way we played the run the entire day, going against the MVP. But in the end they made more plays than we did.”
Both San Diego touchdowns were set up by Chicago fumbles.
The game’s pivotal play occurred late in the third quarter with the Bears leading 3-0. A short Chargers punt bounced once and then caromed off the shoulder of Brandon McGowan, who was blocking on the play, and San Diego recovered at the Chicago 29.
Punt returner Devin Hester was waving his arms frantically, trying to instruct teammates to get away from the ball. But McGowan never got the message.
“We have to get communication to him,” Smith said. “That was a big play at the time. There are a lot of things we did wrong. But you go back to that one statistic—turnover ratio. They won that, and at a critical time in the second half.”
San Diego converted the turnover as Tomlinson tossed a 17-yard TD pass to tight end Antonio Gates on a halfback option, giving the Chargers a 7-3 lead with :45 left in the third quarter. It was the seventh career scoring pass thrown by the All-Pro running back.
“You try to prepare for all passes,” Smith said. “Trick plays are part of it. We had a breakdown. We should have had a player back in that zone and we didn’t.”
Adrian Peterson’s 11-yard run on third-and-10 gave the Bears a first down at the Chicago 47. But two plays later linebacker Stephen Cooper stripped the backup running back and safety Clinton Hart recovered at the San Diego 44.
“The whole key to the game was not finishing drives,” said quarterback Rex Grossman, who completed 12 of 23 passes for 145 yards with 1 interception and a 53.7 passer rating.
“There was some mistake or something happened that kind of stalled the drive, and that just can’t happen. When we’re playing our best, those mistakes don’t happen and tonight was definitely not our night.”
Tomlinson’s 7-yard TD run then gave San Diego a 14-3 lead with 9:09 left in the fourth quarter.
One play before the touchdown, safety Mike Brown exited with a sprained knee, the same injury that knocked nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek out of the game on the subsequent kickoff return. Both players will be further evaluated Monday at Halas Hall.
Robbie Gould’s 27-yard field goal had given the Bears a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter. The kick was set up by Brown, who intercepted an overthrown Philip Rivers pass over the middle intended for Gates and returned it 27 yards to the San Diego 35.
The Bears didn’t cross the Chargers’ 35 again until late in the first half. But Grossman’s first-down pass from the 32 was intercepted by safety Marlon McCree at the 1 on an apparent mix-up between the quarterback and wide receiver Bernard Berrian.
“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot when we got a rhythm going,” Grossman said. “It wasn’t our day. We’ll learn from it, get better, and hopefully we’ll see them down the road.”
It appeared that the Bears would have a chance to add to their lead late in the first half when San Diego was forced to punt from its own 7 after Brown had turned a sure first down into an incomplete pass with a crushing hit on Gates at the 27.
But Grossman fumbled on the Bears’ subsequent play while scrambling to his left under heavy pressure from defensive end Jacques Cesaire. Peterson recovered the loose ball, but the Bears lost 12 yards on the play and were eventually forced to punt without picking up a first down.
The Chargers had reached the Bears’ 12 on their second possession of the game, but Alex Brown dropped Tomlinson for a 4-yard loss and later blocked Nate Kaeding’s 33-yard field goal attempt with 4:54 left in the first quarter.
The Bears held Tomlinson to just 2 yards on 10 carries before the All-Pro running back picked up 10 yards on the final play of the first half.
San Diego threatened to take the lead early in the third quarter, reaching the Chicago 1. But on second-and-goal, Tommie Harris timed the snap and burst across the line, causing a fumble that Mike Brown recovered at the 2. The Chargers argued that Harris was offside, but no flag was thrown. After a brief huddle, the officials awarded the ball to the Bears, inciting the crowd.
The controversial play came after Chargers Cooper forced and recovered a Cedric Benson fumble at the Chicago 41 on the opening possession of the third quarter.
The Bears offense struggled in the second half, failing to advance beyond the Chargers’ 35 and running just five plays in San Diego territory.
Trailing 14-3, Chicago turned the ball over on downs with 6:02 left in the game after Peterson was held to a 1-yard gain on third-and-two and Benson was dropped for no gain on fourth-and-one from the San Diego 35.
Benson was limited to 42 yards on 19 carries, while Peterson added 38 yards on seven attempts. But both running backs lost a key fumble in Sunday’s season-opening loss.
The Chargers burned the remaining six-plus minutes off the clock, churning out four first downs before Rivers took a knee to kill the clock after San Diego had reached the Chicago 8.