Sloppy 49ers stung in Levi’s debut
LEVI’S STADIUM — Yellow flags rained down on the 49ers Sunday night as sloppy play sullied Levi’s Stadium’s regular season grand opening as San Francisco fell to the Chicago Bears 28-20.
The 49ers were flagged 16 times for 118 total yards, opening the door for the Bears to launch a late game comeback to hand San Francisco their first loss of the season.
Ultimately the 49ers’ failure to maintain pace on offense cost them dearly. The team ran out of gas in the second half, scoring just three points while allowing Chicago to steal the game from under them.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed 21-0f-34 passes for 248 yards, but his four turnovers and four sacks contributed to a forgettable performance.
After the game, Kaepernick, who listed his play as “terrible,” talked about the offensive effort:
“I’m not gonna say I felt good about the game or what I did, but as far as my decisions, I saw the coverages and went where I wanted to with the ball. We just didn’t make the plays, I didn’t make the throws.”
Kaepernick’s turnovers make him the prime candidate to shoulder the blame for the loss, though coach Jim Harbaugh was more diplomatic in his answers:
“It stings, stings to lose, and we all have fingerprints on it.”
After being listed as questionable prior to the game, Bears receiver Brandon Marshall single-handedly matched the 49ers’ offensive output, catching three touchdowns while netting 48 yards on five receptions.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler found his rhythm late, leading his team to a win while throwing for 176 yards and four touchdowns.
A raucous crowd of red and gold didn’t have to wait long for the first points to be scored at Levi’s Stadium during its inaugural season, as the 49ers defense paved the way for early offense for the second week in a row.
After forcing a three-and-out to a backed up Bears offense to open the game, LB Aaron Lynch shot past the Chicago line to tip punter Patrick O’Donnell’s attempt, deflecting the ball straight up in the air to be recovered by 49ers at the 8-yard line.
Kaepernick would make quick work of the 49ers’ shortened field, connecting with receiver Michael Crabtree on a corner route in the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown pass just 34 seconds into the drive for a 7-0 lead.
After a quick and efficient opening drive, the 49ers’ second turn on offense would signal the start of Kaepernick’s first half woes.
The quarterback’s troubles began after cornerback Charles Tillman appeared to have picked Kaepernick’s pass intended for receiver Stevie Johnson, who stumbled while flashing across the middle.
Kaepernick escaped his first turnover of the season after a review confirmed the ball scraped the ground as Tillman dove for it, but the play seemingly broke open the penalty barrier for both teams.
San Francisco drove the ball down field with the aid of Vernon Davis, but the offense stalled at the 5-yard line, forcing the team to settle for a Phil Dawson field goal from 27-yards out to extend the lead to 10-0.
The 49ers would follow up their two scoring efforts with a lackluster three-and-out. But Kaepernick’s first blemish of the season would come on the following drive as another dangerous pass across the middle was picked by safety Chris Conte, who made an athletic diving catch on a ball intended for Anquan Boldin.
The Bears would fail to capitalize on the turnover as the defense forced a three-and-out, but Kaepernick’s struggles wouldn’t end there.
Following a 54-yard touchdown run by Frank Gore that was negated by an offensive holding penalty on Boldin, Chicago defensive end Jared Allen forced the 49ers’ second turnover after a heavy hit from behind on a scrambling Kaepernick.
San Francisco’s defense would again limit the damage by forcing another three-and-out to the Bears offense, who had failed to gain any momentum against the 49ers defense.
Kaepernick would regroup on the next drive, finding tight end Derek Carrier for a 22-yard reception to set up an eight-yard touchdown run by Gore to put the 49ers ahead 17-0.
Penalties finally burned the 49ers on the Bears last drive of the half, as three flags on different San Francisco players continued to give Chicago new life. The most costly may have been a call against nose tackle Quinton Dial, who was tagged on a third down play for roughing the passer, giving Cutler 15 yards and a fresh set of downs.
Cutler would capitalize, finding Marshall in the middle of the end zone for a spectacular one-handed, leaping 17-yard touchdown catch against the coverage of rookie Jimmy Ward with just 13 seconds left in the half to make the score 17-7.
Chicago’s penalty-aided touchdown drive marked the finale of a half that saw a combined seventeen penalty flags thrown for 128 total yards on both teams.
After the game, linebacker Patrick Willis provided a tongue-in-cheek answer regarding the amount of penalties in the game:
“The only thing I’m gonna do is smile on that. We have to cut down on the penalties, whether it’s on us or whatever, we have to do better on that end. But that’s all I can say.”
Linebacker Ahmad Brooks was more upfront in his assessment about the officiating:
“They called about 16 or 17 penalties on us today and I think they called 11 on them. That’s way too many penalties for a football game.”
Things wouldn’t get much better for the 49ers in the second half either. The 49ers’ opening drive would again stall short of the goal line, forcing another Phil Dawson field to extend the lead to 20-7.
But as the 49ers offense was slowing down, Marshall and the Bears offense were heating up.
Chicago would again be aided by defensive holding — this time by the rookie Dontae Johnson — to extend their drive, ending in yet another Marshall touchdown pass to cut the lead to 20-14 fourth quarter.
The defensive backs of Chicago would match the growing intensity of the Bears rolling offense, as CB Kyle Fuller would pick Kaepernick’s first pass of the quarter out of the hands of Crabtree.
Kaepernick’s frustrations could be felt as he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct following the pick as a result of “offensive language.”
When asked after the game, Kaepernick denied saying anything that would warrant a penalty.
Cutler would need just one play, a 3-yard touchdown pass to TE Martellus Bennett, to give Chicago a 21-20 advantage, their first lead of the game.
Bennett spoke about his team’s second half comeback after the game:
“We came into halftime, and looked at what was going on … We came in and said we need to be monsters. … We wanted to be more like Sully and less like Mike from Monsters, Inc.”
With the wheels falling off the offense, Kaepernick attempted to regroup the offense for a chance at regaining the lead. But a false start penalty by Staley forced Kaepernick into another dangerous third-and-long pass, again being intercepted by Fuller for Kaepernick’s third interception of the game.
Chicago would make it an eight-point game as Marshall hauled in his third touchdown reception of the game while continuing to pick on the rookie Ward whom he caught all touchdown passes against.
With more than six minutes left on the clock, the 49ers had ample time to mount a comeback. But the offense couldn’t find rhythm, twice being forced to fourth down before an incomplete pass to Crabtree in the red zone sealed San Francisco’s fate with a turnover on downs.
The 49ers will look to shore up their sloppy play and get back into the win column as they visit division rival Arizona Cardinals next Sunday at 1:05 p.m.