Bears vs. 49ers: Final Grades, Analysis for San Francisco
The Bears, meanwhile, have dropped two straight after their 7-1 start and are now in a dogfight with the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.
The 49ers completely outclassed the Bears from the opening kickoff, and it's hard to say which side of the ball was more outstanding. On one hand, Colin Kaepernick was sensational in his first career start, throwing for two touchdowns and posting a 133.1 passer rating.
On the other hand, the defense had six sacks and two interceptions, with Aldon Smith setting a "Monday Night Football" record with five sacks.
The 49ers look like the best team in the NFL regardless of who's under center for them, but they've looked like this a couple times before too, only to have letdowns.
San Francisco will play against another hot team, the 5-5 Saints next week at New Orleans and it remains to be seen who'll start at quarterback for them. The Bears will try to pick up the pieces against the rival Minnesota Vikings at home.
Colin Kaepernick: A+
It's hard to fathom how Kaepernick, making the first start of his career, could've been any more impressive against a Bears defense that came into the game allowing just 14 points-per-game and having forced 30 turnovers.
Not only was Kaepernick every bit as careful with the ball as nominal starter Alex Smith, but he was accurate both in and out of the pocket, very sound with his decision making and a dynamic playmaker when he had to be.
Kaepernick finished the game 16-of-23 for 243 yards, with the first two touchdown passes of his career and a 133.1 passer rating, and truthfully he played even better than those stats suggest, as impossible as that sounds.
Both of his touchdown passes came on rollouts. The first one, a 3-yarder to Vernon Davis, was a called bootleg right. The second was improvised, as he scrambled out of his trouble to his left and found Michael Crabtree all alone to make it 27-0 in the third quarter.
Kaepernick also had a number of heady incompletions, plays where he evaded the oncoming pass-rush to get outside of the pocket to throw the ball away out-of-bounds to avoid a negative play.
Overall Kaepernick's first career start might have even been more impressive than Robert Griffin III's debut for Washington at New Orleans earlier this season, especially considering the defense he faced compared to the Saints outfit Griffin dominated.
Of course Kaepernick had some pro experience coming into the game, but still, it was an incredible performance from him, and right now it's just difficult to argue that there's any drop off at all between Alex Smith and him, a statement I couldn't imagine making three hours ago.
Kaepernick was sensational in almost every way imaginable, and sports talk radio in the bay area should be quite lively in the coming week.
Frank Gore: B
Frank Gore had a decent 78 yard outing on 17 carries, but he kind of blended into the scenery. He was buried for a career-worst six-yard loss early in the game, but had steady gains the rest of the way and was probably overused, to be honest.
His blitz pickup was quite good though, and he helped out Kaepernick well in that regard.
Kendall Hunter: A-
Hunter had a 14-yard burst up the gut and broke a tackle to score the team's second touchdown, making it 17-0 early in the second quarter as the rout was on. He definitely should've played more than he did, considering not only how hard he was running but also the blowout nature of the game.
Anthony Dixon: Inc.
Had three carries for six yards very late in the game, his first appearance from scrimmage in quite a while. He's still ahead of Brandon Jacobs on the depth chart though.
Bruce Miller: B
Played more than in past weeks and had a couple of devastating blocks against Bears linebackers. His number wasn't called on offense though and Miller's been under-utilized in my opinion.
Michael Crabtree: B
It wasn't as quite a robust performance from Crabtree as the past couple of games, but he still scored for the third straight outing, working himself wide open in the left side of the end zone during a scramble drill, and has four touchdowns overall in that span.
Crabtree also broke a tackle on a short reception that allowed him to convert yet another third-and-long. This has been, by far the most consistent stretch of his burgeoning career and Crabtree is very much an asset these days.
Mario Manningham: B-
Took a late lick on an early 8-yard hitch and later had a season-long 37-yard reception when he sharply planted his foot after catching an intermediate pass from Kaepernick and spun away from Bears corner Tim Jennings to gain a bunch more yards.
Randy Moss: C-
Caught an early 12-yard pass but dropped another, and he seemed to hurt his finger on the play and didn't see the field much, if at all, after that, not that he was needed much.
Kyle Williams: B
Had an early 57-yard catch-and-run where he zoomed by Bears nickel corner Kelvin Hayden on a corner route and collected many more yards after the catch to set up the team's first touchdown a play later.
Vernon Davis: A
Davis, who had nine receptions for 101 yards combined the past four games busted out on the prime time stage with six grabs for 83 yards and his first touchdown, on a bootleg reception from three yards out, since Week 3 at Minnesota.
His numbers could've been even better, but Kaepernick overshot him on a couple of attempts.
Davis' run blocking wasn't quite as consistent as some past games, but it's nitpicking.
Delanie Walker: D
One short reception and one drop. So it goes for Walker.
Joe Staley: A
Julius Peppers was a rumor in this game, and it was mostly due to the fabulous work of Staley. No standout blocks on toss plays, but Staley protected Kaepernick's blind side well.
Mike Iupati: B+
Not the most dominating game from Iupati in terms of road grading, but he pass blocked well, and was just a wee bit more effective than a certain Bears left guard.
Jonathan Goodwin: B-
A disastrous missed block on a run play early in the game and inconsistent effort overall, but not a terrible game by any means.
Alex Boone: B
Gave up a couple of pressures and wasn't as stout as some past games, but he had a couple of hellacious blocks as well.
Anthony Davis: B-
Cleanly beaten for one sack in the second quarter and not his best game run blocking either, but he got by.
Leonard Davis: B+
Played quite a bit in jumbo packages and it was, by far, his best performance of the season, though that's not exactly a high bar to clear.
Justin Smith: A
It took ten games, but Smith has finally broken his duck on the season, with a half-sack against the Bears, though that may get upgraded to one full or perhaps even 1.5 sacks after the league reviews the film, as Smith was in on more than one Jason Campbell sandwich with tag-team partner Aldon Smith.
For the game Smith just humiliated former 49er Chilo Rachal and bullied him all night long, frequently pushing Rachal back into Campbell's face when he wasn't working his stunts with Aldon Smith on left tackle J'Marcus Webb.
It was the first time in quite a while Smith looked like his 2011 self, though you have to wonder how much of that had to do with the opponent. Let's see if he can carry on the momentum next week.
Ray McDonald: B
Led the defensive line with four solo stops and also collapsed the pocket a few times. The Bears didn't have near the success running his way that St. Louis did last week, and it's been an up-and-down year for McDonald, who hasn't been near the pass-rushing threat he was in 2011.
Isaac Sopoaga: B-
Didn't dent the stat sheet, but Sopoaga held the point much better than last game and he too has been on the roller coaster. Right now it's hard to see him on the team next year, as he will be a free agent and Ricky Jean Francois is waiting in the wings.
Ricky Jean Francois: B
Had a pair of tackles in the fourth quarter in relief of Sopoaga.
Aldon Smith: A+
Officially credited with 5.5 sacks, a "Monday Night Football" record and just short of Fred Dean's single-game team record of six, which was set in 1983. It was the first four-plus sack game for any 49er since Roy Barker had four against the Rams in Oct. 25, 1998.
Depending on film review Smith may wind up with 4.5 sacks by the end of the week, but for now he has a league-leading 15, already surpassing last season's impressive rookie total of 14, and he's well within range of ex-Giant Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5.
Smith had a pair of his trademark stunts around left guard working in tandem with Justin Smith, but also had another where he simply zoomed past left tackle J'Marcus Webb to bury Jason Campbell in the first quarter and a pair against right tackle Gabe Carimi, beating him on and inside move both times.
Smith had seven total hits on Campbell overall and two forced fumbles and it made you feel sorry for Campbell, how helpless he was behind that sieve of an offensive line.
Ahmad Brooks: B-
Was denied a strip sack in the third quarter when the refs called Aldon Smith for a bogus penalty for shoving an offensive lineman while in pursuit of the fumble and gifting the Bears a first down on a late third quarter drive they would wind up scoring their only touchdown on.
Brooks was quiet in the box score, but held the edge markedly better than against the Rams last week.
NaVorro Bowman: A
A game-high dozen stops, and Bowman pretty much neutralized the Bears running game singlehandedly. It was telling that in a game with Patrick Willis, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs on the field, he was, by far, the best linebacker. Bowman's range is unequaled in the league.
Patrick Willis: A-
A terrific coverage game for Willis, who broke up a pair of passes, and he chipped in with seven tackles as well. Got close on a couple of blitzes but no cigar.
Carlos Rogers: B+
His best game in a while, as Rogers broke up a pass in the end zone and really didn't allow much of anything. A couple of physical tackles as well after last week's soft display.
Tarell Brown: A-
Snatched his first interception of the season when he jumped an out route and the only completions he allowed were a couple of short ones in front of him.
Chris Culliver: B
Allowed a touchdown for the second straight game, but his coverage on the play wasn't bad at all. Brandon Marshall, who's 6-5, simply out-leapt him for the ball and Jason Campbell put it in the only spot Marshall could get it.
Donte Whitner: B
A quiet game for Whitner, and for him that's a good thing. Had five routine stops.
Dashon Goldson: B+
Didn't have to show his range much as Campbell rarely had time to throw deep. Still came away with a fourth quarter interception on a horribly thrown ball.
David Akers: B+
Converted all three field goal attempts, but all three were inside of 37 yards and only two of his seven kickoffs went for touchbacks. Akers' leg might have been fatigued with all that work.
Andy Lee: A
An excellent outing for Lee with all four of his punts planted inside Chicago's 20-yard-line. Star Bears returner Devin Hester has -1 yard on four returns.
Brian Jennings: A
An incident-free game for Jennings, as usual.
Ted Ginn: C-
Averaged a mediocre 21 yards on a pair of kickoff returns and a crummy 4.8 yards on four punt returns. Would've been better served fair catching a couple. The best thing to say about his night is that he didn't fumble.
Perhaps this is a layman point of view, but it sure looks as though the biggest adjustment the coaching staff made in light of Colin Kaepernick having to start for Alex Smith was in not making an adjustment at all.
The plays looked like the same stuff Alex Smith had been executing well in past weeks, the formations and personnel packages looked the same and Jim Harbaugh and his coaches simply trusted Kaepernick to execute like a veteran.
To Kaepernick's credit, he did and then some.
Harbaugh and his staff pride themselves in doing the unexpected and zigging when others think they'll zag, so it was perfectly according to form for them to come out passing with Kaepernick making his first career start when the conventional wisdom had them coming out conservatively and letting the youngster settle into flow of the game first.
There really weren't many plays out of the shotgun spread or Kaepernick's favored "pistol" formation early on, when the outcome was in doubt, and if anything the coaches took advantage of Chicago's game plan of wanting to keep Kaepernick in the pocket. The Bears dared Kaepernick to beat them conventionally and the 49ers coaches were happy to embrace that challenge.
It was obvious that Kaepernick was well-prepared for this moment, well drilled against the Bears' scheme and the coaches deserve kudos for getting this performance out of him.
It also helps, of course, to just flat out have more talent on both sides of the ball, and the 49ers have dominated the line of scrimmage and have taken advantage of every mismatch, exploiting the Bears' horrid offensive line with stud Aldon Smith on defense and calling Vernon Davis' number frequently on offense.
If you don't double those guys, it's doom, and somehow the Bears coaching staff can't seem to figure it out. Talk about a mismatch.
The only thing to nitpick, and it really took a long time to find it, was that the coaches still had NaVorro Bowman and Dashon Goldson on the punt team with a 25 point lead in the fourth quarter.
In fact, I have no idea why the starting defense was even out there late in the game. Why expose them to injury risk?