Niners throw a pick party to beat back Bears

When Jay Cutler's 52nd pass of the game came to rest in the hands of safety Michael Lewis in the back of the end zone Thursday night, the 49ers finally could breathe a sigh or relief. Their four-game losing streak is over, and hopes of getting back into playoff contention remain alive after a resilient bend-but-don't-break defense led the way to a hard-fought 10-6 victory over the Chicago Bears.

The 49ers needed all the help they could get in this nationally-televised game at Candlestick Park as their offense struggled throughout the evening.

But Cutler, in his first season as Chicago's franchise quarterback, was there to comply. He threw a career-high five interceptions, all of which came in San Francisco territory and two of which came in the red zone.

Cutler's fifth pick came on the final play of the game from the San Francisco 12-yard line as he stepped up in the pocket and let fly toward tight end Greg Olsen, only to find the sticky hands of Lewis instead.

The Bears had started their final drive at their own 20-yard line with 2:47 remaining to play and were aided by an interference penalty by the 49ers on a fourth-and-10 play that kept the drive moving on Chicago's initial set of downs.

Niners coach Mike Singletary went through the spectrum of emotions on the final play, raising his arms when the pocket collapsed on Cutler only to bring them down in exasperation when Cutler broke free to buy time for his final throw. But in the end, Singletary was able to smile as he gave bear hugs to assistants after beating the team he played for as a Hall of Fame linebacker.

"I hate to say relief, but I can't think of a better word right now," Singletary said after the 49ers won for the first time since Oct. 4 to improve to 4-5.

Relief just about tells the story for the 49ers. San Francisco, which was out-gained 350-216, always seemed just a play or two away from letting the Bears steal this one away.

But it never happened. Chicago could manage just two Robbie Gould field goals despite eight trips into San Francisco territory and three trips inside the San Francisco 20-yard line.

The tone was early in the second quarter, when the Bears – after driving 88 yards in 18 plays – were left with nothing to show for the long drive after nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin intercepted Cutler near the goal line and returned it 10 yards.

Defensive backs Tarell Brown, Dashon Goldson, Mark Roman and Lewis would all follow with key interceptions to turn back the Bears at various points in the game.

"Everybody got an opportunity to get their hands on the ball and we were able to make the plays," Brown said. "Anytime you have an opportunity to get hands on the ball, you have to seize the moment."

Nobody seized the moment of an interception Thursday quite like Brown.

With the 49ers plodding along in a 0-0 tie and the Bears at the San Francisco 49-yard line, Brown rolled up from left cornerback in front of receiver Devin Hester, who had slipped, and grabbed hold of Cutler's pass at the 35-yard line.

Brown changed direction across the field and returned the pick 51 yards to the Chicago 14. Frank Gore burst through the Bears' defense and strolled into the end zone standing up on the next play for the game's only touchdown and, as it turned out, all the points the 49ers would need for victory.

But that lead was never safe. The Bears kept challenging it with Cutler going to the air, and field goals of 50 and 38 yards by Gould cut the margin to 7-6 entering the fourth quarter.

With the Bears getting stuffed on the ground – they finished with just 43 yards rushing on 21 carries – Cutler completed 29 of 52 passes for 307 yards. That doesn't include the five passes he completed to San Francisco defenders, which left him with a quarterback rating of 33.6.

"I have to apologize to the defense and the offense as a whole has to apologize," said Cutler, who leads the NFL with 17 interceptions. "The defense kept us in there all night even throughout all the turnovers."

That's because the San Francisco offense was having a rough night and never could seem to get in sync. The 49ers had just 12 first down and pieced together only four drives of more than four plays.

Quarterback Alex Smith completed 16 of 23 passes for 118 yards and had the offense moving early, only to bog down later in the game. He had one interception when he attempted to take a shot down the field after the 49ers had driven near midfield from their own 11-yard line in the second quarter.

But that was the only turnover for Smith, who had four last week, and the Niners seemed content to turn the game over to Gore to protect their small lead. Gore rushed for 104 yards on 25 carries and also caught four passes as the Niners burned more than nine minutes off the clock on their final two possessions, drives that lasted seven and 11 plays.

"It's nice to be on the other sideline of that, that's for sure," said Smith, who threw three interceptions in last week's 34-27 loss to Tennessee. "We would have liked to have put up some more points when we got in the red zone, but a win's a win. That's the great thing about it."

The win didn't come until the final second ticked off the clock with Cutler aiming toward the end zone, but the 49ers finally came up with what it takes to finish a game after giving away late leads in two of their last three games.

And, appropriately, it was the defense that finished. It was San Francisco's first five-interception game since 1997. The 49ers had just six interceptions entering the game to show for the entire first half of their season.

It was the first time since 1986 that five different 49ers registered an interception in the same game.

"We came out there and showed what this defense is made of," Goldson said. "Since the beginning of the year in training camp, we've stressed turnovers and every day we practice turnover drills. Today was a great opportunity for us. We know what we can do and we showed it out there."

And now, with nine days of rest before they play again Nov. 22 at Green Bay, the 49ers can regroup and get healthy after making the first vital move toward getting their season back on track.

"We took a step tonight," Singletary said. "We hung in there, we fought, we didn't lose our poise … and our young guys did step up and fought and finished it."

Said linebacker Patrick Willis, one of those young guys who stepped up while leading the 49ers with 11 tackles, "It's all about winning. We needed it tonight. And we got it."



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