Niners did their homework to thwart Bears

With just two days to get on the field for practice and a flight from Chicago, the Bears did not figure to make many changes to their offense. The 49ers were fully aware of this, so most of their film study was in breaking down Chicago's most recent game. The 49ers obviously did their homework, as they recorded five picks en route to Thursday's 10-6 victory that broke a four-game losing streak.

It was the first time the 49ers have recorded more than four interceptions in one game since September 1997 against New Orleans Saints quarterbacks Heath Shuler and Danny Wuerffel, both of whom threw three interceptions.

The 49ers did not record any sacks of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, but they got enough pressure on him to force the five interceptions. The 49ers' secondary knew entering the game that it would have some opportunities to make plays.

"I wouldn't say he was trying to force the issue," 49ers safety Mark Roman said of Cutler. "He was trying to make plays at a time when they needed a play to be made. We knew the ball was going to be in the air and we knew if we would be sound in our coverages we'd have opportunities."

The 49ers' offense turned conservative in the second half, as coach Mike Singletary knew the defense was playing well enough to win the game. He wanted to let the Bears make all the mistakes. The 49ers attempted just 11 passes in 31 second-half plays.

It was certainly not an offensive masterpiece for the 49ers. They managed just 216 yards of total offense. Running back Frank Gore gained 104 yards and the team's only touchdown on 25 rushing attempts.

"Of course, you want to be able to do more on offense," said quarterback Alex Smith, who completed 16 of 23 passing attempts for 118 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. "The defense definitely won this game for us. We'd like to do more in the red zone. If we had put one of those into the end zone, it doesn't have to come down to the end of the game."

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Veteran receiver Isaac Bruce was inactive Thursday for the first time in his two-year career with the 49ers. Bruce appeared on the injury report Wednesday for the first time with an ankle sprain. And when Bruce returns, Singletary said he will be a backup to second-year player Josh Morgan.

Third-year player Jason Hill replaced Bruce as the team's No. 3 receiver against the Bears. Hill saw limited action, as the 49ers primarily utilized a two-tight end formation. Hill caught one pass for 5 yards.

Bruce led the 49ers last season with 61 catches for 835 yards and seven touchdowns. But in the first eight games, Bruce had just 20 receptions for 244 yards and no touchdowns.

Bruce, a 16-year veteran, ranks second in NFL history with 15,152 receiving yards. He is fifth on the career receptions list with 1,020. He is ninth in touchdowns with 91. Bruce has started 200 of the 221 games in his career.

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The 49ers remained in the NFC West race with the victory over the Bears. They knew it would be an uphill battle to unseat the defending champion Arizona Cardinals if they had lost Thursday.

Safety Michael Lewis, who clinched the game with an interception in the end zone on the game's final play, said it was a must-win.

"It really was," he said. "Nobody was saying it, but we knew. These last couple of weeks the pressure has been on the defensive backs, and we took it upon ourselves to step up and make plays."

PLAYER NOTES

--- LB Takeo Spikes sustained a left hamstring strain and did not play in the second half. His status for the 49ers' game next Sunday against the Green Bay Packers is uncertain. He'll be re-evaluated next week.

--- LB Matt Wilhelm got the call at halftime to replace Spikes. The 49ers' coaches felt more comfortable with Wilhelm ahead of rookie Scott McKillop. Wilhelm played well, as he recorded five tackles, including one for a loss.

--- S Mark Roman, who lost his starting job at free safety at the beginning of the season, ended an interception drought that started in December 2006. Roman picked off Cutler in the fourth quarter.

--- NT Aubrayo Franklin is having a solid season for the 49ers. He is a big key to the 49ers' run defense, which held Bears running back Matt Forte to 41 yards on 20 rushing attempts. Franklin also recorded his first career interception when he picked off Jay Cutler's second-quarter pass at the goal line.

--- TE Vernon Davis did not back up his words on Thursday, just two days after saying the 49ers could destroy the Bears' defensive front. The usually dependable Davis struggled as a blocker. He also was called for two false-start penalties and caught just three passes for 16 yards.

REPORT CARD VS. BEARS

PASSING OFFENSE: D --
The 49ers' passing game was virtually nonexistent, as quarterback Alex Smith completed 16 of 23 passing attempts for 118 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Smith was sacked twice, and the 49ers managed just six first downs through the air. Michael Crabtree was the 49ers' leading receiver with four catches for 48 yards. Tight end Vernon Davis was held to just three receptions for 16 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The 49ers' run game was not able to accomplish much when fullback Moran Norris joined Frank Gore in two-back formations. But Gore had some success with draws when the 49ers lined up in the shotgun formation. Gore finished with 104 yards and a touchdown on 25 rushing attempts. Gore's 14-yard scoring run in the second quarter was the only touchdown of the game and stood up as the game-winner. He received a nice block from guard David Baas on the play.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- Bears quarterback Jay Cutler threw for 307 yards, but nobody will remember that. The 49ers intercepted Cutler five times, including Michael Lewis' game-clinching pick in the end zone on the final play of the game. Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin and defensive backs Tarell Brown, Mark Roman and Dashon Goldson recorded the 49ers' other interceptions. Although the 49ers did not record any sacks, they applied just enough pressure to hurry Cutler into some bad throws and bad decisions.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The 49ers did a fine job of bottling up Bears running back Matt Forte. He gains just 41 yards on 20 rushing attempts. Franklin did a fine job of controlling the middle of the line, and linebacker Patrick Willis made 11 tackles. The 49ers came into the game with the league's fourth-ranked run defense. Tennessee's Chris Johnson last week became the first player to rush for 100 yards against the 49ers this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- Andy Lee's net average was just 33.4 yards on five punts, but the 49ers did a good job against dangerous Bears return man Devin Hester, who had just 4 yards on two returns. Lee's net average took a beating when he had a 14-yard net punt late in the fourth quarter when he booted it into the end zone from the 34-yard line. The 49ers did not get much going in the return game. Kicker Joe Nedney missed a 39-yard field.

COACHING: C -- The 49ers did not show much discipline, as they committed nine penalties for 77 yards, some of which could have been costly. The 49ers mixed their coverages against Cutler, and in some cases confused him into making bad throws. Coach Mike Singletary seemed content to let the Bears make all the mistakes. The 49ers had 14 called pass plays of their 22 first-half plays. In the second half, the 49ers threw just 11 of their 31 plays.



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