Colin Kaepernick completed 16 of 23 pass attempts for 243 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns and Aldon Smith posted 5 ½ sacks to key a dominant defensive effort as the San Francisco 49ers blew out the Chicago Bears 32-7 on Monday night.
Kaepernick, a 2011 second-round pick out of Nevada, was making his first NFL start in place of Alex Smith, who suffered a concussion in the first half of a 24-24 tie with the St. Louis Rams in Week 10 and was not cleared by the team's medical personnel to play on Monday night. Kaepernick was in complete control from the beginning, completing four of his first five pass attempts, including two connections with tight end Vernon Davis, on the 49ers' opening possession to set up a 32-yard field goal by David Akers. Following a three-and-out by the Bears offense, Kaepernick hit Kyle Williams for 57 yards on third-and-7 play that was followed by a 3-yard touchdown pass to Davis to give the 49ers a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
The 49ers built upon that lead with an eight-play, 91-yard drive that was capped off by a 14-yard touchdown run by Kendall Hunter with 12:47 to play in the first half. A 37-yard field goal by Akers gave the 49ers a 20-0 lead at the break.
The Bears went three-and-out on their opening possession of the second half, with the 49ers taking over at their own 38-yard line. After an 11-yard run by Frank Gore, Kaepernick completed a 9-yard pass to Mario Manningham, who was able to pivot away from an attempted tackle by Bears cornerback Tim Jennings and run 28 yards upfield for a 37-yard catch-and-run down to the Bears' 14-yard line. Three plays later, Kaepernick used his legs to buy extra time and found a wide open Michael Crabtree streaking in the middle of the end zone for a 10-yard score that extended the 49ers' lead to 27-0.
Chicago would spoil the shutout when Jason Campbell and Brandon Marshall hooked up for a 13-yard touchdown with 3:43 to play in the third quarter, but for most of the night, their offense was unable to move the ball against the 49ers, who often moved the Bears backwards. Chicago's offense totaled negative yardage on six of their 11 possessions of the night, turned the ball over three times, including a pair of interceptions, and took a safety when guard Chilo Rachal scooped up a fumble in the end zone and attempted to throw it forward. The 49ers defense sacked Campbell six times, including 5 ½ by Smith, who now has 15 on the season, two ahead of Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller for the NFL lead. Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman had a game-high 12 tackles as the 49ers bottled up Matt Forte, limiting the Bears' top offensive weapon to just 63 yards on 21 carries and 4 yards on three receptions.
Kaepernick's performance against one of the top defenses in the NFL could create a bit of a quarterback controversy in San Francisco. While Alex Smith has successfully managed Jim Harbaugh's offense the last two seasons, there was a reason why the 49ers traded up in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft to select Kaepernick with the No. 36 overall pick. The 6-foot-5, 233-pound quarterback used his elite athleticism to avoid pressure and buy extra time, he did not put the ball in harm's way and fed the ball to Davis, who gained 83 yards on a season-high six receptions and scored his first touchdown since Sept. 28.
"It was everything I could ever wish for," Kaepenick told ESPN's Lisa Salters after his first NFL start. "It just feels great to be out on the field…I really wasn't too nervous. I've had a lot of time in this offense, my teammates were great around me, giving me support, telling me I'll be just fine out here, just play like I can."
When asked by Salters if he was going to start next week, Kaepernick said "I don't know, I hope so."
Forty Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh prefers to stick with the hot hand and that clearly is Kaepernick, who is the future of the quarterback position in San Francisco. Contractually, both quarterbacks are signed through the 2014 season. Kaepernick is in the second season of a four-year, $2.227 million rookie contract that has base salaries of $607,922 in 2012 and $740,844 in 2013, with $590,314 of next season's salary guaranteed. Smith is in the first year of a three-year, $24 million contract that is paying him $8 million in total compensation in 2012. According to a source with knowledge of his contract, Smith is due to receive a $1 million roster bonus on the third day of the 2013 league year and $1 million of his $7.5 million base salary in 2013 is fully guaranteed. However, if Smith is on the 49ers' roster on April 1, 2013, the entire $7.5 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed, which would be an awful lot of cash to pay a potential backup quarterback.
With the win, the 49ers improved to 7-2-1 on the season, which is good for the second-best record in the NFC (behind the 9-1 Atlanta Falcons), and are 1 ½ games ahead of the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West. The 49ers visit the New Orleans Saints in a rematch of a 2011 NFC divisional round playoffs game that San Francisco won, 36-32. The Bears are now on a two-game losing streak; they fell to 7-3 and a half-game behind the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North and will host the Minnesota Vikings next Sunday.
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