Bears Far From Impressive in San Francisco

The Bears had every reason to be excited heading into the preseason based on how good they looked so far in training camp. But after a horrid performance in San Francisco that saw the first-team offense commit two turnovers and the first-team defense look very pedestrian, head coach Lovie Smith still has some serious work to do if this team is going to take the next step.

There was one quarterback of the future that looked like he was ready to take the next step on Friday night. Unfortunately for Bears fans, that quarterback was San Francisco's Alex Smith, not Chicago's Rex Grossman.

Smith passed for 137 yards and led the 49ers to a big early lead in their 28-14 exhibition victory over the Bears on Friday night. Grossman completed only three of 11 passes for 47 yards, and many of his throws were hurried and inaccurate.

Frank Gore rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown, while San Francisco's starting defense made it very difficult on Chicago's much-maligned offense. The Niners came up with two first-quarter turnovers that led to 10 quick points, highlighted by Jeff Ulbrich's 32-yard TD return of a Grossman fumbled snap.

The 49ers, owners of both the league's worst offense and defense just a year ago, completely dominated with the starting units on the field. They were comfortably leading 17-0 when Smith left the game after going 16-for-21 through the air with no interceptions. Talented but well-traveled receiver Antonio Bryant had five receptions for 54 yards, and Gore also caught five passes from out of the backfield.

On the other hand, Chicago's first-team offense looked awfully similar to last season's impotent attack. Not only did Grossman have a poor statistical performance, the offense as a whole sometimes looked disoriented, disorganized, and discombobulated.

Coincidence or not, the offense took on a much different personality when veteran backup Brian Griese entered the huddle. Seeing his first action in a Bears uniform, he promptly orchestrated a 75-yard scoring drive late in the first half, capped by a touchdown pass to reserve tight end Gabe Reid.

Griese picked up where he left off in the second half, putting together an 83-yard drive that included a gorgeous 41-yard touchdown strike to converted cornerback Rashied Davis. There has been almost no talk of a quarterback controversy at training camp despite Griese's desire to start, but his 6-for-7, 134-yard performance will have to make head coach Lovie Smith do a little thinking.

Alex Smith was rolling out of the pocket on bootlegs all night long, and he looked very comfortable on almost every snap. Like the Bears, the 49ers need to make some big strides on offense if they expect to compete this season, but they actually look ready to make the necessary improvements.

Smith led a 13-play scoring drive in the second quarter, moving San Francisco 68 yards before Gore's 1-yard TD plunge. Gore got 10 carries and most of the first-team action in the latest indication he has passed the disappointing Kevin Barlow, who got just one carry, on the 49ers' depth chart.

But the 49ers' defense also made some waves. Mark Bradley committed a fumble after a short reception on the Bears' opening drive that Walt Harris recovered. Smith then moved the 49ers into scoring range with short passes, and Joe Nedney came through with a 33-yard field goal.

Grossman made the Bears' next big mistake, muffing a third-down snap and then fumbling the ball straight to Ulbrich, who returned it down the Chicago sideline for his first career touchdown. Grossman never seemed relaxed, air-mailing two open receivers on the Bears' first drive of the second quarter.

The 49ers replaced Smith with Jesse Palmer and then Shaun Hill, who scrambled for a fourth-quarter touchdown. Second-stringer Trent Dilfer was rested and did not see the field.

Chicago held out running backs Cedric Benson (shoulder) and Thomas Jones (hamstring) with minor injuries. Adrian Peterson was the starter at tailback, but he didn't have a hole to run through all night long.

Bears cornerback Nathan Vasher was woozy after a big collision in the first quarter, but he appeared to be just fine on the sideline shortly thereafter.

The Bears will host the San Diego Chargers at Soldier Field on Friday night in Week 2 of preseason action.

JC


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