Bears quarterback Jay Cutler didn’t really look like much until it looked like the 49ers collapsed his lungs.
But after taking that helmet-to-sternum shot from 49ers defensive end Quinton Dial just before halftime, Cutler actually looked sharper than before.
Cutler led the Bears back to a 28-20 win over the 49ers, after they trailed 17-0 in the second quarter.
He only threw for 176 yards, but that was as much game plan as anything (they wanted to run and feature the tight ends early), as the four touchdown passes made up for that.
It’s clear that wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery weren’t 100 percent because of injuries which forced roster moves late in the week.
And with neither able to run the way they normally can, it’s not a total surprise that Cutler was missing them high throughout the first half.
It’s also a surprise that Cutler survived the hit.
But after taking that shot, Cutler and Marshall found each other, and three touchdown passes later, they had the lead.
Assuming they’re all well at the same time, the Bears have the potential to have one of the league’s best passing attacks. They can’t afford slow starts like this every week, but the fact they recovered the way they did is only a good sign for the rest of the season.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. Colin Kaepernick usually only looks this bad against the Seahawks.
The 49ers quarterback turned it over four times, opening the door for the unlikely Bears comeback.
Despite the contract extension this offseason, he’s still very much a work in progress as a passer.
His first read is his best friend, and Bears rookie Kyle Fuller figured that out for two picks.
Kaepernick is a remarkably talented player, but he and the 49ers need to realize he’s far from a finished product.
Coupled with the fact he drew the league’s first inappropriate language penalty, and it was a night to forget.
2. Bears veteran cornerback Charles Tillman left the game in the third quarter with a right triceps injury, and was clearly emotional on the sideline.
His season was cut short last year by an injury to the same area, though there’s no word yet on his status for the rest of the season.
The 33-year-old Tillman has been a class act for the Bears on and off the field, and the hope is that he’s able to recover.
Coupled with a shoulder injury to safety Chris Conte that knocked him out of the game, the Bears secondary was reeling by the end of the game.
But if Tillman is out for any extended time, the damage will be beyond the simple need to find another corner, as he’s the kind of cornerstone player whose value transcends covering wide receivers.
3. The 49ers keep trying to give running back Frank Gore’s job away, or at least bring in replacements.
And he keeps not letting them.
The 31-year-old doesn’t appear to be slowing down, finishing with 13 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown.
But his best run might have been the first-half touchdown which was called back on a holding penalty on Anquan Boldin. That one showed the kind of vision and ability to set up blocks that has made Gore the kind of guy who is hard to replace.
The latest kid brought in with an eye toward the future, Carlos Hyde had four carries for zero (0) yards.
Meanwhile, Gore continued to provide the real rhythm of the 49ers offense, and gives them a stable base to build on while they fiddle with Kaepernick and the passing game.
4. Maybe the Bears like flying into Santa Clara better.
They haven’t beaten the 49ers on the road since 1985, and had lost their previous eight games there by an average score of 34-6.
But this looked like a different team, after exorcising the ghosts of Candlestick.
5. The game was played on the third layer of sod in a month at Levi’s Stadium.
But this version appeared to hold up well, without the dangerous chunks of turf flying around as were the case in the preseason and during a 49ers practice when Jim Harbaugh had to pull his team off the field for their own safety.
And with Snoop Dogg playing a halftime concert, it’s clear they had the grass issues taken care of.