CHICAGO –- The 49ers woke up with a purpose on Sunday morning.
It may have taken a while for the offense to do much of anything, but the defense came through with a winning effort in the 49ers’ 26-20 overtime victory against the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.
“Last night, we were talking about it,” 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said. “You don’t need to play the game on Saturday night ... the big deal is to get your good night's sleep, and when the alarm goes off, let’s go.”
The 49ers’ defense has been fast asleep for most of their road appearances. At home, the 49ers allowed an average of just 15.8 points for the first six games. On the road, the 49ers were giving up league-worst 35.2 points. That stat was shared with the team’s defense.
“We just took it as a challenge to play better on the road,” 49ers safety Eric Reid said. “We feel like it’s our fault when we lose games on the road because of the way we played. The guys stepped up today, and it helped.”
The defense actually did the work of the offense early in the game, as defensive back Jimmie Ward intercepted a Jay Cutler pass in the first quarter and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown.
Ward said Cutler was fooled into thinking he was going to blitz. And linebacker NaVorro Bowman called out the play in anticipating that Cutler would throw a screen to a wide receiver.
“Coach (Eric Mangini) called a great play, and I was showing blitz, and I think he thought I was going to blitz, so he checked out of it,” Ward said. “And then Bow ended up calling screen. I thought he (Cutler) was going to check the play again, but he ended up running it because he thought I was blitzing.”
Said Bowman: “When he made the check in the situation we were in, I knew the screen was coming. I just had to communicate that to all 11 guys. It was the right call, and Jimmie was able to make the play.”
Cutler completed 18-of-31 passes for just 202 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. However, the 49ers gave up 172 yards rushing on 42 attempts.
The defense broke late in the fourth quarter when the Bears drove 83 yards on six plays to take the lead on Ka’Deem Carey’s four-yard touchdown run with 3:32 remaining in regulation.
With the score tied 20-20, the 49ers’ special teams allowed Deonte Thompson’s 74-yard kickoff return to set the stage for Robbie Gould’s 36-yard field goal attempt for the win.
That whole drive we knew we weren’t going to let them score,” Reid said. “We were saying we’re going to block the field goal. ‘It’s not over.’ And he missed it, so it gave us new life. We had to go out again in overtime and stop them. And offense saved a good one.”
The 49ers forced a three-and-out on the Bears’ only possession in overtime, setting the stage for Blaine Gabbert’s 71-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith for the winning points.
Reid was the most vocal of an exuberant bunch of 49ers players exiting the field. The 49ers victory snapped a two-game losing streak and was just the fourth victory in 12 games this season.
“There was a lot of excitement because I know what this team is capable of, and if we play like we did today, the result is a win,” Reid said.
Bowman, who has talked a lot this season about the growing pains of having so much turnover on the defense, seems to believe everything is heading in an acceptable direction.
“I really see we can really have something special here,” Bowman said. “Maybe it didn’t come as fast as we wanted, but we can definitely see the (progress) and it’s looking good for us.”