By Jerrell Richardson
After a lackluster performance last week, the San Francisco 49ers came out Monday and demolished the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears, earning a 32-7 victory. It was a game that featured a pair of 2nd-string quarterbacks opposing the two best defenses in the league, and while it was assumed that points would be hard to come by, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick proved otherwise. He was helped by his defense and special teams, and the only bad news after the game is that head coach Jim Harbaugh will now have to deal with a quarterback controversy.
Colin Kaepernick was asked to take one week of preparation to get ready for a Monday Night showdown against one of the best defenses in the NFL that leads the league in takeaways. The 2nd-year quarterback passed the first test of his professional career with flying colors, not only shredding the Bears, but making it look easy all while protecting the ball. He looked more like a seasoned veteran with his ability to read the field and complete passes to his 2nd or 3rd options. In his first start, he completed 16-of-23 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. What was more telling of his calm and collective demeanor was that he ran the ball only four times for 12 yards.
During the limited time that Kaepernick has been used in the Wildcat offense, he has shown the ability to make plays with his legs more than his arm, so it was assumed that he would have a big night running the ball. By only taking off four times, it showed that he is able to sit in the pocket and make his throws, all while keeping his eyes down-field and not panicking as so many athletic quarterbacks tend to do. His offensive line did a good job at giving him time, but he handled the occasional pressure well. Whatever was asked of him by his team, or demanded of him by Chicago’s defense he handled. Grade: A+
The passing game was back on display. For whatever reason, Vernon Davis had been missing as of late, but the talented tight end was the featured weapon on Monday, and as a result, the entire receiving core had a good game. Davis finished the game with six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown and set the tone early. Most of his catches came in the first few drives and caused the Bears to shift their defense to account for Davis. This opened the entire field up with six other players catching passes, including Michael Crabtree who hauled in his 5th touchdown this season, already surpassing his total from last year.
The team started the game off with a pass and had several big plays through the air, but once again, the running game provided the perfect balance that allowed the offense to move the ball at will. Gore was handed the ball 17 times and racked up 78 yards. The Bears figured to bottle up the 49ers running game but could not solve the San Francisco blocking schemes, and yielded 123 yards on the ground. Grade: A
The 49ers defensive game plan was simple. The first thing was to make the Bears one dimensional. With the 49er offense putting points on the board early and often, the defense was in the driver’s seat. Matt Forte could find no room to run and finished with a three-yard per rush average. Chicago tried to run as often as possible to keep the 49ers honest, but after falling behind by multiple possessions, they had no choice but to turn the game over to Jason Campbell. With Forte out of the picture, step two was to make Jason Campbell’s night miserable — mission accomplished.
There is no secret that the Bears have struggle to protect the quarterback, and Monday was no exception as San Francisco’s Aldon Smith had a memorable night. The outside linebacker recorded five sacks, making it impossible for Campbell to get comfortable in the pocket. With Campbell under duress, Chicago wide receiver Brandon Marshall was invisible. Marshall did catch a touchdown pass for the team’s only score, but that was after a penalty kept their drive alive, and the scoring play was on a 50/50 ball that Campbell put up for grabs. Although they won’t get credit for a shut out, the 49ers defense put forth their best effort this year, also forcing two interceptions. Grade: A
With the game not even close on the scoreboard, little was needed from the special teams. The best effort from this unit was the coverage on Devin Hester, who did nothing to help his team out with field position. He had the same amount of receptions (3) as punt returns, and finished with more receiving yards and return yards, which always equals an unproductive night for the return specialist.
With no pressure on him, San Francisco kicker David Akers quietly got back on track, hitting all three of his kicks in the swirling winds of Candlestick Park, and punter Andy Lee did what he always does. Ted Ginn Jr. did not have any jaw dropping returns, but it wasn’t needed. On a night that the offense and defense played as well as they did, the special teams was only asked to play solid. Grade: A
Alex Smith vs Colin Kaerpernick
San Francisco will jump to the top of the NFL power rankings after embarrassing a team many figured to be the class of the NFC. The 49ers again showed the amount of talented on their roster and how impossible they are to beat if they can get an early lead. The big question heading into next week will be the health of Alex Smith and what to do what Colin Kaepernick. If Smith is ready to go, does Kaepernick go back to the bench? That decision will be up to Harbaugh, who has the enviable problem of having two quarterbacks who have played very well this year. The team can see that they have depth at the most important position on the field. The 49ers at 7-2-1 now have the second-best record in the NFC.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.