The San Francisco 49ers were fully aware of this, so most of their film study was in breaking down the Bears' most recent game. The 49ers obviously did their homework, as they recorded five interceptions en route to a 10-6 victory Thursday night at Candlestick Park.
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."
Season-saving win for 49ers, too
The 49ers remained in NFC West race with the victory over the Bears. But 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."
The win snapped a four-game losing streak. It was the 49ers' first win since Oct. 4 against the St. Louis Rams. Had the 49ers lost, they would have been two games behind five teams — including Chicago — in the wild-card chase. Instead, they're only one game behind four teams and tied with Chicago, with the head-to-head tiebreaker in hand.
"I'd hate to use the word 'relief,' but trying to think of another one is kind of hard right now," coach Singletary said. "So, I will say, 'yes.'"
Receiver Isaac Bruce sat out the 49ers' game last week against the Chicago Bears with a reported ankle injury. But Bruce was clearly going to receive a decrease in playing time even before he was told to watch the game in street clothes.
With a 10-day break, Singletary said he expects Bruce to be back in uniform, but he will not be in the starting lineup for the remainder of the season. The 16-year veteran has lost his starting job to second-year pro Josh Morgan. But the bigger question is whether Bruce should also be bumped back another peg to allow third-year player Jason Hill to take over as the No. 3 wideout. Hill has been productive in his limited playing time this season with five catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns.
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.
Under the radar
Left tackle Barry Sims has played nearly three full games after starter Joe Staley went down with a knee injury Nov. 1 on the first offensive play against the Indianapolis Colts. Sims came to camp with the modest goal of just winning a spot on the 53-man roster. Now, he's protecting the quarterback's blind side. Sims, an 11-year veteran, is doing more than just holding his own. He did a good job against the Colts' Dwight Freeney in his first extended action, and he followed it up with strong performances against Tennessee and Chicago.
— 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.
Still, he remains the team's top threat in the passing game. Davis has 45 receptions for 493 yards and seven touchdowns as he makes a bid for his first Pro Bowl appearance.
— Former Packers safety Mark Roman, the 49ers' dime safety, recorded an interception Thursday night against the Chicago Bears. It was his first interception since December 2006. Roman was the starting free safety for the 49ers through 2007 and '08 before getting surpassed in the starting lineup this season because of his lack of playmaking.
— QB Alex Smith has played relatively well since taking over as the 49ers' starter from Shaun Hill. Smith has completed 64.8 percent of his passes, as opposed to Hill's 56.1 completion rate. Smith has averaged 6.6 yards per pass attempt, a half-yard better than Hill's average. But Smith has six touchdowns and six interceptions, while Hill threw five touchdowns and two interceptions in 33 fewer pass attempts.
— RB Frank Gore has rushed for 551 yards and six touchdowns on 105 carries this season, despite missing most of three games with an ankle injury. Gore is also second on the 49ers with 26 receptions for 211 yards.
— WR Brandon Jones was the 49ers' most expensive free-agent acquisition. While he has yet to catch a pass, Jones is being used on punt returns. But he has just 7 return yards on six attempts with no fair catches.
— Takeo Spikes sustained a left hamstring strain and did not play in the second half. His status for the 49ers' game on Sunday against the Packers is uncertain. He'll be re-evaluated next week.
— 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.
— 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.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.