The 49ers took a small step forward in their 26-20 victory in overtime against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, but in the big picture, it was more like a step back.
Even though the Niners were outplayed virtually from start to finish, they managed to accomplish two things they hadn’t done before this season. They won a road game and scored a touchdown in the first quarter, although it was the defense that put the points on the board.
At 4-8, the Niners momentarily dropped into a five-way tie for the fifth overall pick in the draft. Worse yet, Blaine Gabbert tied the game on a 44-yard run then won it on a 71-yard pass to lonesome Torrey Smith, who took advantage of a blown coverage. That no doubt planted another seed in the minds of general manager Trent Baalke and his staff that he could be their quarterback of the future.
“It was set up by all the throws we had underneath early on the in the game, all the runs that we ran out of that formation,” Gabbert said of the rare shot downfield. “It worked perfectly.”
Otherwise, Gabbert looked a lot like Colin Kaepernick for much of he game. He dinked and dunked and did his best work with his legs. Before the last fling, he passed for 125 yards and was sacked four times on 31 attempts.
If the Niners miss out on a better draft pick because of the victory, their fans can blame that no-good Robbie Gould for it. The Bears’ kicker missed two field goals, the last a 40-yarder as time expired in regulation play.
“I feel terrible,” Gould said afterward.
It’s hard to tell whether Niners fans should feel worse.
SO LONG, EVERYBODY: The Niners are open to the return of Kaepernick next season, they say, and the two sides reportedly discussed the possibility last week.
Don’t expect the talk to amount to much. Far more likely, Kaepernick and the organization will reach a injury settlement on his bum left arm before April 1, at which point he is guaranteed $11.9 million. That will allow him to test the free-agent market, where he and Robert Griffin III will be on the radar of desperate teams.
LET’S THROW A PARTY: Jimmie Ward was so excited to score his first NFL touchdown that he executed a front flip in the end zone. The safety picked off a Jay Cutler pass and took it to the house, the kind of brain fart that the Bears’ quarterback has been known for throughout his career.
As for the offense, it gained a total of five yards in the first quarter. At the start of the day, it ranked 31st in pass yards and 31st in total yards in the opening quarter, the sign of a unit that wasn’t prepared to open games.
Not that Balls would ever blame coordinator Geep Chryst or anybody.
PETERS HAUNTS RAIDERS: Kansas City Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Peters doesn’t wear Oakland on his sleeve. His hometown is tatted vertically between the words “Family” and “First” on his back.
So imagine how anxious Peters was to play his first game at O.co Coliseum against the team that he rooted for as a kid. And pick off a Derek Carr pass in the fourth quarterback that helped seal a 34-20 victory.
Peters was so amped up that he threw up on the sidelines.
“It was hard, man,” Peters said. “I can’t lie — it was real hard to come out there and maintain my focus. My nerves were up and down the whole game.”
Peters said he “brought the whole town” to the game. His father showed up in a Chiefs jersey underneath a black jacket.
“When you come to the Black Hole, you gotta throw on a little bit of black to survive,” Peters explained. “You gotta do that.”
The 49ers selected Arik Armstead one spot ahead of Peters in the first round of the last draft, another decision that they might want back one day.
“The team that God wanted me to go to selected me, man, so there’s no bad feelings or anything,” Peters said. “I’m well-blessed.”
DUBS ROLL ON: The Warriors extended their ridiculous win streak to 22 in a row on Sunday, a 114-98 victory over the Brooklyn Nets that was remarkable for this reason: Stephen Curry actually bricked his first three free throws.
It was hard to tell who was more disappointed — Curry or the hundreds of fans who wore blue and gold jerseys with his name on the backs. He finished with 28 points in 32 minutes.
The Nets gave the Warriors their biggest scare of the season in Oakland last month, but this time was different.
“I’m not sure [why], but I am sure that we pointed that out to our guys in our film session, that this team definitely believes it can beat us,’’ interim coach Luke Walton said. “They got us last year, they almost had us at home this year already, so that message is out here, out there to the guys.’’
More good news: Klay Thompson continued to look more like himself with 21 points and a pair of blocked shots.
BRING ON THE HAWKEYES? Stanford won’t meet Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, after all, and that’s too bad for fans of modern football.
Surprisingly, Iowa got the assignment after it was ranked ahead of No. 6 Stanford and No. 7 Ohio State. That came despite its forgettable 16-13 loss to No. 4 Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, a taffy pull that was right out of the Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust handbook. The Spartans scored the game-winner on a 22-play drive late in the game.
Meanwhile, Cal and Air Force will meet in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 29 in Fort Worth, Tex. The first team to score 40 points wins.
MAC WILL BE BACK: Christian McCaffrey earned a trip to New York for the Heisman Award ceremony, but his 461-yard jaw-dropper in the Pac-12 championship game probably wasn’t enough to overtake Alabama bruiser Derrick Henry in the minds of the voters.
While Henry and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson were on the short list of Heisman Trophy candidates at the start of the season, McCaffrey got a late jump that pretty much killed his chances for the coveted award. In the season opener, the sophomore was limited to 89 yards from scrimmage in a 16-6 loss at Northwestern, and it took weeks for him to become recognized around the country.
If McCaffrey wasn’t a household name then, he sure is now. Consider the kid to be the early Heisman Trophy frontrunner for the next season.
YOUR TURN: “You’re so right regarding Alex Smith. There was a division among 49ers fans as to whom should be the 49ers’ QB. I was in Alex’s camp and disagree (for the only time) with coach (Jim) Harbaugh’s decision. You don’t lose your job unless you’re not playing well or have a long injury. Always liked Alex, and now he may take the Kansas City Chiefs to the playoffs. Well done, Mr. Smith.” — Art Alcantar, San Francisco.
Got an opinion? A gripe? A compliment? (A compliment?!?) Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and you may get your name in the paper one day.