Preseason takes: 49ers vs. Bears

Yes, it was just five days ago the 49ers were playing an exhibition game, but tonight in Chicago comes another of the utmost importance as the Niners take on the Bears in pivotal Week 3 of the preseason, and SFI will provide our usual observations, impressions & speculations from Soldier Field. Make sure to refresh this page every 10 minutes for running updates and commentary throughout the game.

--- It was at this point last summer that things began going south for the 49ers. A week after a promising home victory over Oakland, the 49ers came to Chicago for their third exhibition game - usually considered a dress rehearsal for the regular season - and were thrown around when the front-line units were on the field before the scrubs rallied at the end to make the score respectable in a 31-28 loss. But, playing the defending NFC champions, that game was the first sign that San Francisco might have real problems in 2007 as far as playing the top-level teams. Well, the Bears didn't turn out to be one of those last season, and certainly neither did the Niners.

--- Wow, what a start. Frank Gore rips up the middle of the Chicago defense for 11 yards on the game's first play from scrimmage, then bursts into the open for a 28-yard gain on the very next play. On that play, Gore followed rookie guard Brian de la Puente around the right side, breaks through the first level, then cuts it back to the left side where he roams free before finally being brought down by cornerback Charles Tillman. Gore eased up at the end of the play instead of delivering a blow to Tillman. If this had been the regular season, Frank would have ran over the guy and tacked on more yards.

--- And there goes Zak Keasey, busting one into the secondary and dragging a defender before he's finally brought down after 16-yard gain. That's one good example of why Keasey is winning the starting job at fullback this season. The 49ers are running right through the Chicago defense, which isn't looking too Monsters of the Midway right now.

--- There's a flip pass inside from quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan to Gore that goes awry. That play has worked well during training camp practice and the 49ers like it and will be using it plenty this season. But Gore can't find the handle, bringing up a third-and-five, and the 49ers eventually settle for a 28-yard field goal by Joe Nedney after reaching the Chicago 10-yard line on their opening drive.

--- On the ensuing kickoff, the 49ers have Danieal Manning nailed back at the 2-yard line after he takes a reverse handoff from Devin Hester, who brought the kickoff out from four yards in the end zone. But Manning breaks away from three San Francisco defenders who have him stopped near the goal line, then turns the corner and has clear sailing down the left sideline. He goes for 60 yards before he finally is brought down at the San Francisco 33. The San Francisco coverage units usually don't make those kind of mistakes.

--- After the San Francisco defense forces a third-and-9 from the 21, safety Mark Roman is slow to react to a dig move and allows receiver Rashied Davis to get behind him. Roman was supposed to be in the deep middle to help cornerback Nate Clements, and quarterback Kyle Orton throws right to the spot in the end zone where Davis is step behind Roman. It's a touchdown for the Bears, and a great reason for the 49ers to seriously consider giving Dashon Goldson a shot as the regular free safety. Goldson would have made that play, and he might have even intercepted the pass. Instead, it's Bears 7, 49ers 3.

--- The 49ers march right down the field again on their second possession, with Sullivan hitting Gore on a screen pass for a first down, then hitting Keasey in the flat for another first down, then finding Isaac Bruce down the field for anther first down. See a pattern developing here? O'Sullivan is finding his rhythm. O'Sullivan then throws a nice fade pass to Bruce in the end zone, putting it right in the corner, and Tillman is called for pass interference when he doesn't look back for the ball, even though he has great coverage on the play. Gotta play the ball, Mr. Tillman.

--- San Francisco's goal line offense needs some work. With the ball at the 1, the 49ers can't punch it in. Gore is stopped for no gain on first down, then loses a yard on second down, and the pocket quickly collapses as O'Sullivan is sacked attempting to pass on third down. It's a 69-yard drive for the 49ers, but all they get out of it is a 24-yard field goal from Nedney to creep within a point at 7-6.

--- Geez, what's going on with San Francisco's kickoff coverage team? Manning takes the ensuing kickoff and burst right through the first wave of bodies, then bounces off a lame tackle attempt by kicker Joe Nedney. He's in the clear now down the right sideline for a 75-yard return. Rookie Reggie Smith knocks the ball out as he's bringing Manning down, but the Bears recover the fumble and are set up with a first down at the San Francisco 14.

--- The Niners toughen up on defense - Walt Harris makes a fine play in the corner of the end zone on a second-down fade route that he almost deflects into the hands of Roman - and the Bears have to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Robbie Gould after reaching the San Francisco 3 to make it 10-6 in this fast-moving, back-and-forth first quarter.

--- Wow, Take 2: The 49ers just went right down the field against a reeling Chicago defense once again, with O'Sullivan needing just two plays to take San Francisco 77 yards for a touchdown. He throws beautiful passes on both plays, the first a 40-yard deep corner route to Vernon Davis in which Davis shows his speed against overmatched Chicago linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, who simply can't cover him. Davis makes a nice-over-the-shoulder reception on a play that is upheld by instant replay after a Chicago challenge.

--- The next play is all O'Sullivan. He rolls out to the right, where he is chased down hard by a Chicago defender. Showing good awareness, he stops near the sideline - forcing the diving defender to miss - then fires a strike into the end zone to receiver Jason Hill, who has slipped behind safety Mike Brown. It's a 37-yard touchdown play, and that great execution might have just clinched the starting job for O'Sullivan - if he didn't have it already. The 49ers now lead 13-10 as the second quarter begins, and the San Francisco offense is hanging huge yardage on the Bears.

--- Retribution for the kickoff coverage team. On the ensuing kickoff, opportunistic ballhawk Goldson knocks the ball out of the hands of returner Garrett Wolfe and Keith Lewis recovers. Despite the close score, the 49ers are absolutely dominating.

--- Well, the Niners obviously saw enough of O'Sullivan, as Alex Smith trots into the offensive huddle with more than 14 minutes still remaining in the second quarter. Coach Mike Nolan's plan was to play O'Sullivan and the rest of the first-teamers the entire first half and maybe even into the third quarter, but there's not much more to see from O'Sullivan after he goes 7 of 8 passing for 126 yards an directs three consecutive scoring drives on his three possessions.

--- Or is he? Smith doesn't look too bad as he directs a short touchdown drive. This is a good thing for both Smith and the 49ers, who figure to get Smith plenty of action tonight - game action that he needs. Smith completes 2 of 3 passes for 11 yards as the Niners punch it into the end zone, with Moran Norris taking it over from the 1 on a play in which the 49ers lined up both their fullbacks - Norris and Keasey - in the backfield. That's a look opponents will have to wary of if both those players make the team.

--- That pushes San Francisco's lead to 20-10, and the 49ers have scored on each of their four possessions to begin the game. They also already have rolled up more than 200 yards of offense at this point. Chicago's total offense to this point? 39 yards.

--- Well, Chicago just added a huge chunk of yardage to that total. What the 49ers are taking offensively, they're giving back on defense as the Bears march 81 yards in nine plays for a touchdown to make it 20-17. The big play comes early - a 55-yard pass to Mark Bradley, who gets free behind defenders down the right sideline. On third-and-goal from the 7, Orton finds Davis over the middle again for the second touchdown collaboration between the pair.

--- The Smith-led offense turns a second-and-2 into a fourth-and-2 and Andy Lee comes into punt. He booms one to the goal line, where Hester catches the ball and takes a few steps back into the end zone. Then he clearly takes the ball one step past the goal line, then gives ground back into the end zone, where a hard-charging Keasey trips him up. It clearly looks like a safety for the 49ers, but the officials rule a touchback. Huh? Replays clearly show that Hester took a big step out of the end zone, then went back and was tackled. Why isn't Mike Nolan challenging the play? Oh … the 49ers don't have any timeouts left. Well, too late now. Man, that was safety all the way. Now the Bears are moving down the field again instead.

--- The San Francisco secondary - which has really looked sharp most of the summer - continues to display some confusion and give up big plays. Orton and Davis hook up again, this time for 23 yards, and that kick-starts an 11-play, 74-yard drive that takes Chicago to the San Francisco 4. On third down, Davis drops a short pass over the middle that could have been another touchdown, and the Bears settle for another short field goal by Gould to knot the score at 20-20.

--- Gould sends the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, giving the 49ers an opportunity as they start their final drive of the half at their own 40 with 41 seconds and no timeouts remaining. After a false start penalty pushes the 49ers back five yards, Hill hooks up with Hill for a 41-yard catch-and-run down the right side. With no timeouts remaining, the 49ers have to settle for a 41-yard field goal attempt by backup kicker Ricky Schmitt, and it is blocked up the middle by lineman Israel Idonije. That keeps the score deadlocked at intermission as the two teams head to the locker room after an entertaining first half.

--- The 49ers have 257 yards of total offense at the half. That's pretty impressive. Smith is 4 of 8 for 61 yards off the bench, and Gore rushed for 51 yards on just eight carries before he went to the sideline to stay. Hill is having a big night with three receptions for a game-high 84 yards receiving. On the other side, the Bears have rolled to 194 yards offense, with Orton going 10 of 15 for 147 yards passing.

--- The Niners have to get their kickoff coverage team together. This is a unit that ranked among the NFL's upper half last season, but they're being gouged tonight. Manning finds a seam up the middle and almost breaks another big return, finally being tripped up at the Chicago 34 to set the Bears up with good starting position.

--- Another glaring mistake by Roman, who misses a tackle attempt on running back Kevin Jones at the line of scrimmage. That allows Jones to break into the free, and after bouncing off of safety Michael Lewis, Jones rumbles for a 34-yard gain into San Francisco territory. Those are tackles that need to be made by both of San Francisco's starting safeties.

--- The Bears only pick up one more yard on the next three plays, and Gould comes out for a makeable 48-yard field-goal attempt. But he hooks it and misses badly to the right, keeping the score at 20-20 and giving the 49ers good starting field position as Smith comes back out to direct the offense.

--- This is why Smith is such an intriguing prospect at quarterback: On third-and-10, he feels the heat of a big rush and bounces out of the pocket. He tries to buy time as he pedals right and looks down field, then makes the quick decision to turn it upfield. Smith then uses his speed to turn the corner and pick up the first down before the Chicago defense can close in on him. It keeps the drive alive, and now the 49ers are moving in Chicago territory.

--- More promising signs from Smith. He is still a little off-target with his throws, but Hill reaches back to make a nice sliding catch for a 19-yard gain on second-and-15 for another first down. Facing third-and-10 from the Chicago 12, Zeigler runs a nice route into the end zone and Smith makes his best pass of the night - firing a bullet right into Zeigler's hands. It's a ball that only Zeigler can get to, and he hangs onto it for the touchdown. That's an 11-play, 62-yard touchdown drive directed by Smith that puts San Francisco ahead 27-20 as the offense continues to roll.

--- When Shawntae Spencer looks bad, he really looks bad. He misjudges a route by Bradley, then has to grab him from behind as Bradley zooms past him and Spencer falls down. Bradley is wide open down the right sideline, but Rex Grossman - now in the game for the Bears - overthrows him. Still, it's pass interference on Spencer and moves the ball into San Francisco territory.

--- Big play up front by the San Francisco defense - led by Ronnie Fields and Tully Banta-Cain - to dump Jones for a five-yard loss. Keith Lewis almost picks off Grossman on the next play, and the Chicago drive is ultimately doomed and the Bears must punt.

--- On first down, Smith heaves the ball deep down field towards Davis, who is behind the Chicago defense. The ball hangs up a little too long, but Davis comes back for it and makes a leaping attempt to bring it down. He has it in his arms as he comes down to the ground, but the ball pops loose for an incompletion. That's a big missed opportunity for the 49ers. And here's another: On third down, Hill slips on his pattern and, although Smith hits him in the hands with a perfect pass as he lay on the ground, Hill can't hold onto it and the 49ers have to punt.

--- So there's Brandon Lloyd. The former 49er receiver hasn't done anything for the Bears tonight at that position, but now he races in to block an Andy Lee punt and give the Chicago offense great field position. The Bears can't do anything with it, however, and they settle for another short field goal by Gould to cut San Francisco's lead to 27-23.

--- Now it's return specialist Allen Rossum getting into the act. Rossum turns the left corner, makes a nice move inside and takes it all the way out to the San Francisco 48 before he is brought down for his best return of the evening. And now, with 5:33 remaining in the third quarter, Shaun Hill is in the game at quarterback and the San Francisco offense is on the move again. The drive stalls near midfield, but Lee makes a nice corner punt to pin the Bears inside their 10-yard line.

--- After an exchange of punts, Rossum's 19-yard punt return sets up the 49ers at the Chicago 46. Rossum is stuck in the back at the end of the play and is taken into the locker room for X-rays on a back contusion. The 49ers don't want to see this guy go down, because he has definitely given them what they've been looking for this summer in the return game.

--- The Niners don't waste much time covering the distance for yet another touchdown. Aided by a personal foul penalty on the Bears, San Francisco needs just five plays to get back in the end zone, with running back Thomas Clayton doing most of the heavy lifting. Clayton rushes for 32 yards on the drive, including a nifty cutback run for the 15 yards to paydirt in which he takes a handoff into the line, quickly bounces it outside, then deftly switches the ball to his outside hand and beats Chicago defenders to the right pylon, diving to get his hands and the ball over the goal line for the score that lifts San Francisco's lead to 34-23.

--- There's another Reggie Smith sighting. The rookie third-round draft pick makes another play, knocking down a Chicago pass on third down with great coverage. The Bears have to punt it back to the Niners again.

--- There goes the San Francisco offense, moving the ball down the field again. The 49ers have more than 400 yards of total offense - just midway through the fourth quarter - and Hill is quietly having a very efficient game. The Niners go from their own 31 to the Chicago 13 before the drive finally stalls, and Schmitt comes in to kick a 31-yard field goal that puts more San Francisco points on the scoreboard and lifts the lead to a commanding 37-23.

--- As second- and third-teamers play at the string, the 49ers have assembled a second consecutive impressive preseason performance against a team that was in the Super Bowl just two seasons ago. The Bears connect on a 51-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Caleb Hanie to Brandon Rideau on the final play of the game, but it doesn't take any luster off the victory. Rideau simply outleaps Smith at the goal line for the ball as the San Francisco rookie actually had fine coverage on the play. So that's a wrap from Soldier Field, with the 49ers prevailing 37-30 in a wildly entertaining preseason game.


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