SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The San Francisco 49ers were moving in the right direction, getting out to a 17-0 lead in their first game inside Levi's Stadium.
But four turnovers and 16 penalties allowed the Bears to come from behind, outscore San Francisco 21-3 in the second half and escape with a 28-20 win to spoil the grand opening on the national stage.
Colin Kaepernick's four turnovers, including back-to-back interceptions in the fourth quarter, help seal the 49ers' fate. Brandon Marshall finished with three touchdowns after coming into the game with an ankle injury suffered in last week's loss to the Bills.
Kaepernick, who finished with 248 passing yards and a team-high 66 on the ground, used one word to describe his performance: terrible.
"It was everybody’s fault," fullback Bruce Miller said. "From lack in scheme, protection, the throws, routes, we all had finger prints on it. Group mistakes."
On Michael Crabtree’s 27th birthday Sunday, he finished with a team-high seven catches and 82 yards and the game's first touchdown. And he was Kaepernick’s target on the team’s final offensive play - a fourth-down post route that went off his hands at the goal line that would have given San Francisco an opportunity to tie the game with 1:17 remaining, pending a two-point conversion.
"I should have caught the ball, but we got bigger fish to fry," Crabtree said. "We got a whole bunch of stuff we need to work on…We need that killer instinct.
"We gave this game away."
San Francisco got off to a good start. They forced a three-and-out on Chicago's first possession and rookie outside linebacker Aaron Lynch blocked a punt giving Kaepernick the ball at the 8-yard line. He promptly found Crabtree for the game's first points on a third-down pass to the right boundary, his first touchdown catch of the year.
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler struggled in the first half, completing just 10 of 20 passes for 64 yards and a score as the 49ers went into the locker room with a 17-7 lead.
The 49ers defense looked like it rebounded from a disappointing performance in Dallas in Week 1's win, but things took a sharp turn in the second half thank to a string of mistakes.
Chicago started the game punting on six-straight possessions. Then they reeled off four straight touchdowns. Then: victory formation.
"We put ourselves in some bad situations, but we’ve got to bounce back," safety Eric Reid said. "This one is over. It’s done with. We’ve got to look ahead to our next game."
San Francisco finished with 16 penalties for 118 yards - six that gave the Bears first downs - including two on third downs on a long second-half scoring drive that ended in Marshall’s second touchdown. Marshall finished with five catches for 48 yards. Alshon Jeffery had three for 47 and tight end Marcellus Bennett had seven for 37 and a score.
Cutler completed 13 of 14 throws in the second half. Three were TDs. Still, the 49ers out-gained the Bears 361-216 and didn't have trouble moving the ball. They averaged 5.6 yards per play to the Bears' 4.2. On a normal night, that's a recipe for an easy win.
Frank Gore finished with 63 yards on 13 carries and had a second-quarter touchdown. He broke loose for a 54-yard score that was nullified by an Anquan Boldin holding penalty. Two plays later, veteran defensive lineman Jared Allen forced a fumble on a Kaepernick scramble the Bears recovered at their 20.
"Fluke call. Maybe he saw another 81 out there. I didn’t even grab the guy. I don’t know how he called that crap.
"That shouldn’t have been flagged. You can see it as clear as day. I didn’t grab the guy, I blocked the guy. I blocked like three people on that play. So what he saw, maybe we need to get him some contacts or whatever, but that was a bad call."
Turnovers were the key. First-round pick Kyle Fuller picked Kaepernick twice on ill-advised throws to the left side of the field in the fourth. The Bears cut the lead to 20-14 with their 13-play third quarter drive. Then on on the 49ers' first play from scrimmage following, Fuller intercepted Kaepernick and returned it to the 6. Kaepernick was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for using inappropriate language, putting the ball at the 3, and Bennett scored on a fade route the very next play.
In the three-play sequence, the Bears went from being down 20-7, to up 21-20. Then Kaepernick threw another pick to Fuller looking for Bruce Miller down the left side line that led to Marshall's third touchdown.
"(I) made throws I wanted to," Kaepernick said. "They made plays on the ball."
On the Bears’ final drive before the half, three-straight penalties allowed Cutler to find Marshall for a highlight-reel one-handed catch from 17 yards out to make it 17-7. All three of Marshall's touchdowns came against rookie defensive back Jimmie Ward, who was at a five-inch disadvantage against the five-time Pro Bowler.
San Francisco scored on its second possession when Phil Dawson hit from 27, capping a 14-play, 7:44 drive. Gore scored on an eight-yard run in the second quarter, set up by a 22-yard grab by Derek Carrier.
The 49ers opened up the second half with a 14-play, 9:04 drive that ended in a 24-yard field goal from Dawson, giving them the 20-7 lead. On third-and-6 from the Bears’ 7-yard line, Gore was stoned for a one-yard carry, forcing the chip shot.
That turned out to be an important sequence in the game. A touchdown there would have given the 49ers a 24-7 lead.
But short field goals mean failed red zone possessions. The 49ers were two of five in red zone trips. The Bears were a perfect four of four.
Marshall scored his second TD of the game early in the fourth quarter on a five-yard toss from Cutler. The 13-play drive included two third down penalties from the 49ers that led to automatic first downs. Outside linebacker Corey Lemonier was flagged for illegal hands to the face while rushing Cutler on third-and-9 which would have ended the drive at their 21. Three players later, rookie corner Dontae Johnson was flagged for illegal contact on Jeffery on a deep pass down the right side on third-and-7.
Tight end Vernon Davis left the game in the second half with an ankle injury and did not return to the game. He was on crutches in the locker room. He will undergo further testing Monday.
The 49ers take to Arizona next week to play the Cardinals, who are atop the division at 2-0 after beating the New York Giants on the road Sunday behind backup quarterback Drew Stanton.
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