CHICAGO -– The 49ers’ first 10 drives consisted of six three-and-outs and just one scoring drive against Vic Fangio’s Chicago Bears defense.
There was not a lot of enjoyment being had on the 49ers’ sideline. Players were seen throwing helmets to the ground after failed possessions. And wide receiver Torrey Smith admitted he was frustrated – “too frustrated,” he said -- with the meager production through most of the game.
But before Blaine Gabbert took the field with the 49ers in need of a 64-yard touchdown drive to pull even against the Chicago Bears late in the fourth quarter, coach Jim Tomsula had some words of advice and a handshake for his quarterback.
“Enjoy this,” Tomsula told Gabbert. “Enjoy it."
Later, Tomsula explained.
"Blaine Gabbert has been playing quarterback his entire life. You get opportunities like this and you need to enjoy them," he said. “That’s why they play the game. All these players in the NFL are amazing athletes and amazing individuals, and you get into a moment like that, enjoy it. Savor it.”
Gabbert certainly had fun on his career-long 44-yard scamper into the end zone to pull the 49ers’ even at 20-20 with 1:42 remaining in the fourth quarter. And the 49ers’ sideline had plenty to get excited about when Robbie Gould hooked a potential game-winning field goal wide to the left on the final play of regulation.
And Gabbert was back at it –- this time with his arm -– to provide the winning points in the 49ers’ 26-20 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field.
“Those are the times that make playing this game so special,” Gabbert said. “You put in so much work throughout the week to have the ball in your hand last, coming down to the wire with two minutes at the end of the game. And in overtime, it’s even more magnified.
“I just tried to lead the team to the best of my ability and get a touchdown by any means possible.”
Smith had every right to be frustrated for most of the game. The speedy receiver, whom the 49ers signed to a five-year, $40 million contract in the offseason, had seen just two passes thrown his way in the first 60 minutes. Smith had one reception for 5 yards in regulation.
“I was frustrated that we weren’t putting up points,” Smith said. “Very frustrated. Too frustrated.
“We didn’t take too many shots in this game, and they were sitting on us. We got a great look and everything happened the way we wanted it to happen. Blaine made a great throw. I had the easy job, just make sure I didn’t drop it, knowing I was open and just stride on in.”
Fangio’s defenses the previous four seasons when he was the 49ers’ defensive coordinator were known to take away the big play. And for most of Sunday, the 49ers had no other options but to try to throw underneath.
“The defense Vic plays is a high shell roof – make you be methodical, make you execute at a high level and be consistent,” Gabbert said. “And there were a lot of throws underneath early on. (Offensive coordinator) Geep (Chryst) made a great call, calling an action-pass there.
“It was set up by all the throws we had underneath early on in the game, all the runs we ran out of that formation and it worked perfectly. Torrey did a great job of tracking the ball in the air and using his speed to outrun everybody.”
Said Tomsula, “You can either bang your head against the wall all day or keep working and keep trying to find it.”
Smith lined up on the slot and the nickel back sat on the underneath route, allowing Smith to break wide open into the secondary. After hauling in Gabbert’s perfectly thrown pass, he outran safety Chris Prosinski into the end zone.
“You really saw the peaks and valleys of NFL football right there,” Gabbert said. “Our guys did a tremendous job on both sides of the football, fighting through the adversity and playing clutch football and coming out with the victory.”
The 49ers are 2-2 in Gabbert’s four starts since taking over for Colin Kaepernick. Gabbert completed 18 of 32 pass attempts for 196 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He also was the 49ers’ leading rusher with 75 yards and a touchdown on six attempts.
“He keeps stepping up and stepping up,” Tomsula said. “The group is stepping up with him and that’s really encouraging. We got a long way to go and we’ve got a lot of improving to do. For a quarterback, those are big moments. To me, you just keep adding those on top of each other and it just keeps progressing."
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who was the underneath option on the game-ending play, emphasized the victory was a testament to the team’s attitude.
“I think the special part is showing the characteristics of guys in this locker room,” Boldin said. “The way the season has gone this year with the record we have, guys could’ve easily folded it in and chopped it up. But every week guys continue to come to work , practice hard, working to get better.
“Everybody is all in. Guys are out here busting their butts. We’re trying to win games. We’re not trying to tank the season. Shows what kind of people we have in this locker room.”