The Bears were extremely sluggish out of the gate, with the offense going three-and-out on their first possession before a blocked punt gave the 49ers the ball at the 8-yard line. San Francisco scored three plays later, giving them a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
The offense continued to struggle through most of the first half, punting the ball on its first six possessions. At one point in the second quarter, the Bears had run 26 plays for just 43 total yards. The 49ers then took a 17-0 lead on an 8-yard touchdown with 2:27 left in the first half.
Yet Chicago’s offense responded with a seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive, capped by a Brandon Marshall 17-yard one-handed TD grab that pulled them within 10 points going into the half.
“I think [the score] was incredibly important to have something to hang our hat on,” coach Marc Trestman said after the game. “We fell apart in all three phases, we couldn’t get anything started and we got in our own way.”
The 49ers took a 20-7 lead after a 24-yard Phil Dawson field goal on their first third-quarter drive, yet that would be the last points San Francisco would score.
The Bears immediately marched down the field on a 13-play, 80-yard drive, with Marshall scoring his second touchdown on a 5-yard reception.
It was then the defense took over. First-round rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller intercepted 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the first play of the following drive, leading to a three-yard touchdown grab by tight end Martellus Bennett.
“They had gotten me on that route earlier in the game,” Fuller said. “I got a good break and was able to make a play.”
Fuller then picked up his second interception on the very next drive, which led to Marshall’s third touchdown grab, an 8-yard fade in the back left corner of the end zone.
Marshall – who was questionable with an ankle injury coming into the game and wasn’t cleared until a few hours before kickoff – finished the game with five receptions for 48 yards and three scores.
“Both of them, Alshon [Jeffery] and [Marshall], they didn’t practice all week,” Cutler said. “They’re professionals. We don’t have to worry about them. We just have to get them to Sunday. They played their butts off.”
Despite Marshall’s strong game, Cutler deserves the lion’s share of credit for keeping together an offense that was without two starting offensive linemen – center Roberto Garza and guard Matt Slauson – and was forced to play two noticeably hobbled receivers. Cutler held the offense together through a horrible 29-minute stretch in the first half, refrained from turning the ball over and exploded in the second half.
“We just kept plugging,” said Cutler. “We knew we had some good stuff, we just had to figure them out defensively. The defense set us up with some short fields, some turnovers. That helped and we were able to convert when we got down in the red zone.”
Cutler finished the game 23 of 34 for 176 yards and four touchdowns. It was his first four-touchdown performance since November 28, 2010.
Defensive end Willie Young was the catalyst for the defensive line, picking up four tackles, two for loss, and 2.0 sacks.
“We had four guys up front that were not willing to give,” Young said. “Bending but not breaking. Our motto is ‘we’re going to ball until we fall.’ That’s just how it’s going to be up front for the rest of the year.”
All together, the Bears forced four Kaepernick turnovers, three interceptions and one fumble.
Beyond the turnovers, the 49ers also continuously shot themselves in the foot due to mental mistakes. San Francisco earned 18 penalties for 118 yards, many of which were defensive infractions that kept Bears drives alive.
Tillman’s injury is the same that ended his season last year and he was very emotional on the sidelines afterward. It’s very possibly the 12-year veteran played his last NFL snap tonight.
The 17-point comeback by the Bears was their biggest comeback since rallying from 20 points down against the Arizona Cardinals in 2006.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.