Jim Tomsula doesn't like to single out players, but he made an exception on Sunday.
Following a thrilling, 26-20, overtime road victory over the Chicago Bears, the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers made sure to give some love to a second-year defensive back.
"Jimmie Ward!" said Tomsula, who pointed to his left towards the young defender. "I usually don't go with these shoutout-name things, but with some of you guys, there was some big plays."
Ward's big moment was a tone-setter in Sunday's come-from-behind win over the Bears. But after closer inspection of Ward's collegiate roots, it should come as no surprise that Ward recorded his first career interception and returned it 29 yards for a score in the first quarter against Chicago.
San Francisco's first-round draft pick in 2014 played four seasons at Northern Illinois. He played in two games at Soldier Field while in college, recording 23 tackles in losses to Big Ten foes, Wisconsin and Iowa.
"I didn't have to go out to warm up, because I know this stadium," Ward said after the 49ers snapped a two-game losing streak. "I know how the grass is already. I was well prepared for the game. I watched a lot of film this whole week."
Ward's film study was evident on his pick-six of Jay Cutler.
Trailing by six points midway through the first quarter, Ward was tipped off on a possible screen pass from teammate NaVorro Bowman. Ward said Cutler liked to run down the play clock to get an idea of where the defensive pressure was coming from.
Ward showed blitz from the left slot, but the 49ers defensive back was bluffing his true intentions. As Cutler checked out of his original play call, Bowman yelled out, 'Screen!' and motioned to his defensive backs that a quick throw to Alson Jeffery was soon to follow.
Bowman was right, and Ward was in position to capitalize.
"I peeked at (Jeffery) a little bit, and I saw him coming in," Ward said. "I knew the screen was coming. (Cutler) ended up throwing it, and I jumped the ball and scored."
"It was just a quick screen," Cutler said of the play. "If (Ward) jumps it, it's probably going to be a pick-six. He had a good bead on it, jumped it and made a good play."
After making the catch, all Ward had to do was to keep his balance as he ran down the left sideline. Ward stumbled initially, but he regained his footing and did a flip into the end zone to punctuate the first defensive score for San Francisco this season.
"I really wanted that touchdown," said Ward, who finished the day with two tackles. "I would have been mad if I fell, but I'm glad it worked out for me."
Ward's touchdown was especially sweet considering who it came against. The second-year pro was targeted by Cutler in a Week 2 road loss to Chicago, one that saw Ward give up key second-half touchdowns to former Bears wideout Brandon Marshall.
Ward said he couldn't help but circle the Week 13 road game in Chicago.
"I'm happy we got the win," he said. "My first pick, my first pick-six of my career, so I'm feeling really happy about that."
Here's what social media said about Ward's impressive play: