The last time the Bears made the trip out to California to face the 49ers, on Nov. 19, 2012, they were facing a quarterback in Colin Kaepernick who had never started an NFL game. San Francisco won that night, 32-7, and Kaepernick has been under center for the team ever since. The quarterback has been quite successful, taking his team to the Super Bowl and NFC Championship Game in his two years as starter.
On Sunday night, the Bears will take another crack at Kaepernick and the 49ers. The quarterback has improved since that first matchup, according to San Francisco running back Frank Gore and coach Jim Harbaugh, both of whom spoke with the Chicago media via conference call on Wednesday.
"Colin is good at going through his progressions, going through his reads," Gore said. "When he scrambles, he keeps his eyes downfield. He's got better at that."
The coach agreed, saying of his quarterback, "Colin does a great job of being in the moment right now for this Sunday's game and today's practice. He has a unique gift of being in the moment, of competing and the way he prepares. If he did something good a year and a half ago, he really doesn't like to talk about it."
One of Kaepernick's greatest strengths is his speed and ability as a runner. But inthe 49ers' season opener last Sunday against Dallas, it was his arm that did most of the damage. He completed 70 percent of his passes, throwing for 201 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Gore did the damage on the ground, leading the team with 66 rushing yards in San Francisco's 28-17 victory over the Cowboys. The 10-year veteran eclipsed 10,000 career rushing yards in the win.
"I'm a very smart player. Got great feet, great eyes. And I know the blocking schemes very well," Gore said when answering a question about his strengths as a running back. "I've always been a smart runner. If you watch me, I really think that's why I've lasted, because I don't let anyone get clean hits off me. And also, I know my linemen well, I know the scheme. And you know, I still love the game."
The 49ers are not just a strong offensive team. They also have one of the NFL's top defenses, forcing four turnovers in the season opener.
"I think (our defense) played really good. We were opportunistic," Harbaugh said. "We feel like we need to and want to grow this week and going forward. I think there are ways we can do that and that's where our focus is right now."
The Bears defense allowed 193 rushing yards in their Week 1 loss to the Bills, but Gore still had high praise for the unit he will be facing. Many of the veterans on the Chicago defense are players the running back has faced before, including middle linebacker D.J. Williams, Gore's college teammate at the University of Miami.
"I just know a couple of guys who I've played against before, I know they can play ball," Gore said of the Bears defense. "Even though they gave up rushing yards last week, I still don't overlook them. They have a lot of veterans who know how to play the game right. So I know they are going to clean up whatever they did last week and come in and give it all they got.
"And tell D.J. to not hit me so hard on Sunday," Gore added with a chuckle.
Harbaugh, who played for the Bears from 1987-1993, said he is excited for the coming game, but doesn't treat the matchup with his former team any differently than he would any other contest. On the conference call, he discussed the nerves he faces before and during every game, no matter the opponent.
"Every NFL game I go into, the night before the game I sleep like a baby, which means I wake up every hour crying," Harbaugh said. "And during the game, I feel like I'm sitting in a dentist chair getting a root canal done for three and a half hours."