The Bears’ best punt return in three years wasn’t supposed to be one.
Trailing by 22 with 5:30 left on an otherwise miserable Monday night, the Bears sent nine players to try to block the Eagles’ punt from the base of the “A” in the south end zone’s BEARS logo.
Eddie Royal was supposed to fair catch the ball. After all, he had only one blocker — Deiondre Hall, who was chasing the Eagles’ gunner down the right sideline.
“I knew we were going to try to block it,” Royal said after the Bears’ 29-14 debacle at Soldier Field. “Normally it’s a fair catch when we’re trying to block it. But at that point in the game, we needed a spark.”
Through two games, Royal has been a rare Bears bright spot. In Week 1, his 31-yard punt return matched all but one punt runback all last year. Monday night, his 65-yard touchdown return was the Bears’ longest since Devin Hester brought one 81 yards for a score on Oct. 20, 2013.
Royal caught the ball at the Bears’ 35 yard line, hopped over the diving gunner, took three steps left and headed for the right sideline.
Those steps bought his blockers some extra time after attempting to bat down the punt.
He beat the Eagles’ Brent Celek to the edge, and had a wall of blockers waiting for him.
“I knew the guys up front blocking were going to give a great effort and get around and give me a great wall,” Royal said. “It was just one of them things where I had to catch it. I knew the gunner was going to be down there. My guy got just enough on him to allow me to catch the ball. …
“Once I got to the wall, it was just like we drew it up. Those guys gave great effort.”
Royal didn’t return punts for the Bears in preseason games due to a concussion that left him on the sideline. He might not have even if healthy; the Bears were trying out Marc Mariani at the position.
Monday, he gave his blockers the credit. The return, perhaps, could provide a spark after a bleak Monday — and during a stressful, shortened week.
“I already knew it, but it was just proof right there that those guys, they were gonna fight,” he said. “We have a team full of fighters. If we have a chance to make a play, we’re going to make it.”