NFL Preview - Chicago (0-1) at San Francisco (1-0)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - It may be a new stadium, but the San Francisco 49ers are hoping the results don't change against the Chicago Bears.
The Niners will play their first regular-season game at Levi's Stadium on Sunday night hoping to avoid their first home loss to the Bears in nearly 29 years.
San Francisco leads its all-time series with Chicago 32-29-1 including playoffs and has won each of its past eight home games versus the Bears.
Chicago has not picked up a victory in San Francisco since Oct. 13, 1985.
The Niners have won two in a row in this series and dominated the Bears 32-7 when the clubs last met on Nov. 19, 2012 in a clash on Monday night.
That contest saw San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick make his first career start as he took over the reigns from Alex Smith and never looked back. He threw for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns to pace the Niners as they outgained the Bears 353-143.
With Chicago starting quarterback Jay Cutler out due to a concussion, Jason Campbell was sacked six times, with 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith credited with 5 1/2 sacks.
Smith, though, missed last week's opener as he serves a nine-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy, while inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman is out while recovering from a torn ACL.
That didn't stop the defense from dominating the Dallas Cowboys in a 28-17 win as it intercepted Tony Romo three straight times and turned four Cowboy turnovers into 21 points. That included a fumble recovery by cornerback Chris Culliver who took it 35 yards for a score just three plays into the game.
"This game was about steel in the spine. When it comes to 49er players, that's where they excel," said San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Kaepernick went 16-of-23 for 201 yards with a pair of touchdown passes to Vernon Davis, while Frank Gore and rookie Carlos Hyde combined for 113 yards on the ground. Hyde also scored his first NFL touchdown.
San Francisco has won 15 of its past 20 home openers, including all three under Harbaugh, and Kaepernick doesn't think that playing in a brand-new stadium will distract the team.
"I think everyone's focused on Chicago," he said. "I don't think we're worried about having our first game here. We're worried about trying to get this win."
The Bears also are worried about getting a win as they lost a 23-20 game in overtime to the Buffalo Bills in Week 1. Chicago overcame a 10-point deficit in the second half and forced extra time on Robbie Gould's 37-yard field goal with 30 seconds left in regulation, but Buffalo got a 38-yard run by back Fred Jackson in overtime that set up Dan Carpenter's game-winning 27-yard boot.
Jay Cutler completed 34-of-49 passes for 349 yards with a pair of touchdowns, but also was intercepted twice. Brandon Marshall had eight catches for 71 yards with a score, but had a fumble.
The Bills turned three Bears turnovers into 13 points.
"I thought the offensive line did a great job. Turnovers hurt us, penalties hurt us. We just kept stubbing our toe on certain things throughout the game," Cutler said. "Overall, we just didn't get the job done offensively."
Alshon Jeffery caught five passes for 71 yards while being limited by a hamstring injury and Martellus Bennett hauled in eight throws for 70 yards and a score. Matt Forte carried the ball 17 times for 82 yards and added 87 yards receiving on eight catches.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The 49ers secondary will have its hands full with Marshall and Jeffery, but both Bears wide receivers are hobbled and considered day-to-day. Jeffery's hamstring injury limited his role in last Sunday's loss, while Marshall finished the game but sustained an ankle issue.
That could be good news for a San Francisco club that had a pair of cornerbacks in Culliver (concussion) and Tramaine Brock (toe) miss practice on Wednesday.
Even though San Francisco remains without Smith and Bowman, Cutler could still find himself facing some heavy pressure due to a banged-up offensive line. Both guard Matt Slauson and center Roberto Garza suffered ankle injuries versus the Bills that has their status for this game in doubt.
Telling is the Bears' re-signing of offensive lineman Eben Britton on Tuesday, though rookie guard Michael Ola and center Brian de la Puente remain in line to start in place of Slauson and Garza if needed.
"It would have been great to have them in there," Bears right tackle Jordan Mills said of Slauson and Garza after Sunday's loss, "but unfortunately, they got injured. Just like (Bears head coach Marc) Trestman says, 'Depth is key.' We expect if anyone goes down - me or anyone else, whoever comes in to replace us, we expect them to play like a starter. Like I said before, de la and Ola did a great job replacing Garza and Slauson. It was unfortunate that two of our starters and leaders went down, but they came in and did a great job."
They certainly performed well enough for Forte to have a solid game as he was the first Bears player since 2000 to have 80-plus rushing and 80-plus receiving yards in the same game.
Bears defensive end Jared Allen has a sack and forced fumble in two straight meetings with the Niners and will be one of the players counted on to contain Kaepernick.
"He's an extremely explosive player, as explosive as they get in this league," Trestman said of Kaepernick on Chicago's website. "He can not only throw well in the pocket, he can throw outside the pocket."
While Kaepernick got some good lucks to tight end Davis, he was helped by a running game that saw Hyde serve as a solid pairing with Gore. The rookie Hyde averaged 7.1 yards per carry on seven attempts to help keep Gore fresh.
His presence will only benefit Gore, who managed 66 yards to eclipse 10,000 for his career.
"Was very pleased with Carlos," said Harbaugh. "Thought he had some explosive runs. Hit the hole very well. Was good in his blocking and his pass protection. And also things that he's going to learn from in this game, two, three things right off the bat. You dip your toe in and you understand that there's improvements to make."
One player who will need to improve on history in this game will be Cutler, who has thrown for 537 yards and one touchdown to six interceptions in two previous meetings with the Niners, posting a 52.5 passer rating.
The spotlight of a primetime game will be on both clubs as they christen Levi's Stadium, and the Bears will be aiming to play spoiler.
That will be easier said than done against a 49ers team played solid against the pass last week. The Bears will need to get Forte going early after seeing Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray run for over 100 yards versus San Francisco.
Getting Forte moving on the ground could also limit the mistakes that Cutler is prone to make, but San Francisco is just too good on defense not to get to the Bears quarterback and the offense will capitalize on a mistake or two made by the Bears.
Sports Network predicted outcome: San Francisco 24, Bears 16
09/11 13:54:28 ET