NFL Preview - Chicago (7-2) at San Francisco (6-2-1)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Uncertainty surrounds Monday night's marquee matchup
between the NFC North Division-leading Chicago Bears and the frontrunners in
the West, the San Francisco 49ers.
Concussions have shelved both starting quarterbacks while the Niners' head
coach, Jim Harbaugh, was sent to the hospital last Thursday when doctors
discovered he had an irregular heartbeat.
Harbaugh underwent what was described as a "minor procedure" and was back at
work on Friday preparing for the Bears.
"They had to do a little procedure, cardiovert," Harbaugh said after getting
back to work. "Get it back normal. It's amazing they can do a procedure like
Cardioversion is an electric shock that gets the heart back into a normal
rhythm and Harbaugh said it wasn't the first time he's had to have something
done to his heart.
"About 13 years ago, I had a cardio ablation for the same thing," the 49ers
coach said. "An atrial flutter is what I have."
Assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Brad Seely handled the
49ers practice on Thursday and would have presumably been in line to run
things if Harbaugh was unable to recover quick enough for Monday night but the
coach is ready to go against the organization he played seven of his 14 NFL
"If you're a football player, it's a game you live for. If you're not, it's
another day at the office," Harbaugh said. "I hope it's everything they live
On the field San Francisco's Alex Smith was belted twice in last Sunday's
24-24 tie with St. Louis, ultimately exiting the game in the second quarter
after suffering blurred vision.
Smith did enough to pass the NFL's ImPACT testing protocol and was able to
practice in a limited fashion by Thursday. He reportedly planned on playing
Monday night but was ruled out earlier in the day after being evaluated by
49ers medical director Dr. Dan Garza.
The Bears' Jay Cutler, meanwhile, also hasn't recovered enough after being
walloped during a helmet-to-helmet collision with Houston linebacker Tim
Dobbins late in the first half of the team's 13-6 loss to the Texans on Nov.
Dobbins was fined $30,000 earlier this week for the hit and Cutler has been
ruled out of Monday's game.
On paper Chicago seems a little better prepared to withstand the loss of its
starting quarterback since veteran Jason Campbell is the caddy for the Bears
while untested but super athletic Colin Kaepernick is Smith's backup for San
Campbell, who has significant starting experience in previous stops with
Washington and Oakland, was unable to lead Chicago on a game-tying drive in
the waning moments of its loss to Houston, however.
A steady rain and two play-making defenses made points hard to come by in that
one. Houston and Chicago combined for six turnovers in the opening 30 minutes,
with the Texans forcing four of them.
Campbell connected on 11-of-19 throws for 94 yards against the Texans while
Matt Forte ran for 39 yards on 16 carries.
"We're 7-2," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We're going to get ready for San
Francisco. We have an extra day to get ready for them. There's a lot of
football left to go."
Two normally trustworthy kickers misfired in overtime and the end result was
the NFL's first tie in nearly four years during the Niners last game
Both David Akers and Greg Zuerlein both missed field goals in overtime as San
Francisco and St. Louis Rams played to NFL's first tie since Nov. 16, 2008
when the Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals finished their contest
knotted at 13-13.
Akers, who sent the game into overtime with a 33-yard field goal with three
seconds remaining in regulation, sailed his kick wide left from 41 yards out
midway through the extra session.
Zuerlein initially nailed a 53-yard attempt on St. Louis' ensuing series, but
a delay of game penalty was called. The rookie kicker, who split the uprights
from 60 yards away earlier in the year, pushed it right from 58 yards out.
Smith was 7-of-8 for 72 yards and a touchdown before exiting the contest
with the concussion. Kaepernick came on and threw for 117 yards on 11-of-17
efficiency and added 66 yards on the ground for San Francisco, which had won
four of its previous four games coming in.
"The way I feel it was a good football game, it was a hard fought game, it
came out even," Harbaugh said.
The 49ers hold a slim 31-29-1 edge in their all-time series with the Bears,
including a 21-12 advantage at home. This game also marks the fourth matchup
between the two clubs on Monday Night Football, and the first since 1991.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Two of the NFL's top defenses are probably licking their chops thinking about
playing against backup quarterbacks.
San Francisco leads the NFL, allowing 127 points (14.1 per game) and Chicago
ranks second with 133 points allowed (14.8 per game).
The 49ers also rank in the top three in the NFC in all three defensive yardage
categories: total yards per game (292.1, first), passing yards per game
(196.8, third) and rushing yards per game (95.3, third). The Bears, meanwhile,
rank second in the NFC in rushing defense (92.3) and third in total defense
(307.3), but lead the NFL with a mind-boggling 30 takeaways, including 19
interceptions and seven interception-return touchdowns.
A second-round pick out of Nevada in the 2011 draft, Kaepernick was pedestrian
against the Rams in the first extended action of his NFL career. His
athleticism and ability to extend plays is always a concern but a smart,
opportunistic defense like Chicago's tends to give quarterbacks like
Kaepernick a ton to trouble.
Kaepernick has been approaching as if he will start against the Bears but it's
pretty clear San Francisco probably would need Smith to navigate a Bears
defense which makes its living generating turnovers and turning them into
With Kaepernick at the helm expect the Bears to play a lot of single-high
safety with the intent on stopping Niners running back Frank Gore, who
generally plays very well against Chicago, amassing 215 yards and a touchdown
on just 37 carries in his past two games against the Bears.
"Chicago's a good team," Niners tight end Vernon Davis said. "They have a lot
of talent. I know that we'll be ready."
Campbell has much more experience but certainly won't have it easy against San
Francisco's defense, which has been putting big time pressure on opposing QBs
lately, recording eight sacks and numerous hurries over its past three
This will be an extremely tough game to prepare for on both sides with all the
uncertainty. Smith seemed to be on target to give it a go but that's out the
window now while Cutler will also have to sit things out. Meanwhile,
Harbaugh's heart issue had to hurt the 49ers' preparation at least a bit.
All that said, the fact that Chicago's backup signal-caller is the more
seasoned option should be enough to help the Bears sneak out of the Bay Area
with a close win.