49ers 28, Bears 14
Smith passed for 137 yards and led the 49ers to a big early lead in their 28-14 exhibition victory over the Bears on Friday night.
The 49ers had the league’s worst offense and defense last season, but they were up 17-0 when Smith left after going 16-for-21 with no interceptions in perhaps the most confident performance of his short NFL career. New receiver Antonio Bryant had five receptions for 54 yards, and running back Frank Gore also caught five passes from last season’s No. 1 overall draft pick.
“He’s a grown man now,” said Gore, who rushed for 49 yards and a score. “I looked in his eyes last year, and his eyes were like this.”
Gore widened his eyes until his lids disappeared, suggesting fear and uncertainty.
“Now, he’s a grown man,” Gore concluded. “Alex wants it. That’s what I respect about him. He wants to be great.”
Keeping the athletic Smith on the move with play-action and rollouts, the 49ers drove the ball with surprising ease against the defense that allowed the NFL’s fewest points last season.
Smith led a 13-play scoring drive in the second quarter, pushing San Francisco 68 yards before Gore’s 1-yard TD plunge.
“It was a ton of fun,” said Smith, who had one touchdown pass and 11 interceptions in nine appearances last season. “I had so much anxious energy to go out and get something done. We worked really hard during this offseason and camp, and it’s starting to show up.”
Meanwhile, Chicago’s first-team offense did nothing to erase memories of last season’s bumbling unit, which was carried to the NFC North title by an outstanding defense. Grossman, who missed the first 13 regular-season games with a broken ankle, went 3-of-11 for just 47 yards while Chicago struggled to move forward.
The Niners forced two first-quarter turnovers that led to 10 points, including linebacker Jeff Ulbrich’s 32-yard TD return of Grossman’s fumble.
“I just never really established any kind of rhythm,” Grossman said. “I wasn’t able to calm down and really feel in control of what I was doing. Tonight just wasn’t a good night, and I’m glad it’s over.”
But Griese, signed in the offseason to give provide an alternative to the injury-plagued incumbent, led a 75-yard scoring drive late in the first half, capped by Gabe Reid’s 12-yard TD catch.
Griese did it again in the second half, guiding an 83-yard drive ending in Rashied Davis’ 41-yard TD reception. Nearly 10 months after Griese’s season ended in Tampa Bay with a knee injury, the veteran showed he’s ready for more action.
“My biggest goal of this preseason is to make sure my knee feels good, and then show this team that I can lead them down the field and score,” Griese said.
Coach Lovie Smith has insisted the Bears have faith in Grossman, but Griese — who went 6-for-7 for 134 yards—says he wants to start in Chicago.
When asked if a quarterback controversy was brewing, Smith smiled and said: “Rex is our starting quarterback. This is our first game. We’ll go on to next week.”
Gore got 10 carries and most of the first-team action in the latest indication he has passed Kevan Barlow, who got just one carry while nursing a bruised thigh, on the 49ers’ depth chart.
But the 49ers’ defense also did its share: Mark Bradley fumbled after a short reception on the Bears’ opening drive, and Walt Harris recovered. Smith moved the 49ers into scoring range with short passes, and Joe Nedney hit a 33-yard field goal.
Grossman made the Bears’ next big mistake, muffing a third-down snap and then fumbling the ball straight to Ulbrich, who returned it down the Chicago sideline for his first touchdown. Grossman then missed two open receivers on the Bears’ first drive of the second quarter.
^Notes: The 49ers replaced Smith with Jesse Palmer and Shaun Hill, who scrambled for a fourth-quarter touchdown. … Chicago rested running backs Cedric Benson and Thomas Jones with minor injuries in front of a half-full Candlestick Park. … Bears cornerback Nathan Vasher, whose NFL-record 108-yard return of a missed field goal ended the first half of Chicago’s victory over the 49ers last season, was shaken up on a hit in the first quarter, but returned to the game.