The Bears trailed the 49ers 6-0 late in the first half Sunday at snowy Soldier Field when they handed the ball to Jordan Howard on back-to-back plays deep in their own territory.
After a pair of San Francisco timeouts, Deonte Thompson caught an eight-yard pass from Matt Barkley on third-and-six, resulting in a first down. The play wasn't only significant because it was the Bears' first completion of the game but because it sustained a key drive.
View photos from the game as the Bears take on the 49ers at Soldier Field in Chicago.
It also helped begin a stretch of three straight possessions that ended with Howard touchdown runs as the Bears scored the game's final 26 points in a 26-6 victory over the 49ers.
"It does feel good," said coach John Fox. "Hats off to those guys in that locker room. A lot of young guys had to answer the bell and they've done an outstanding job."
On a field that became increasingly slippery and sloppy because of snow that fell throughout the game, Howard rushed for 117 yards on 32 attempts, and his three TDs were a career high.
"The kid does an outstanding job back there," said center Cody Whitehair. "[He] runs really hard, puts his head down and gets every inch."
Barkley also performed well, completing 11 of 18 passes for 192 yards and a 97.5 passer rating. He heated up on the Bears' final drive of the first half, completing 4 of 5 passes for 64 yards. Prior to that possession, the offense had been limited to 55 yards on 18 plays.
"I think that really spurred both sides of the ball to be motivated just to finish the game strong," Barkley said of the two-minute drill. "I could tell that we were playing for each other at that point. Guys were striving for every yard. They were winning their routes and had great protection. I think across the board that's when we really started to gain momentum and we carried that through the second half, especially with that opening drive, which helped the rest of the game."
The Bears defense shut down Colin Kaepernick, who was replaced by Blaine Gabbert early in the fourth quarter after completing just 1 of 5 passes for 4 yards while being sacked five times. San Francisco mustered only six net passing yards in the game, the fewest in franchise history.
"That's what you want for every quarterback," said defensive end Akiem Hicks, who recorded a team-leading 10 tackles and two of the Bears' six sacks. "You want to put fear in him. You want him to throw bad balls. You want him to make bad decisions or throw the ball in the ground. That's what you're looking to do as a defensive unit; to put fear in the opposing quarterbacks."
The Bears defense did not allow a touchdown for the second time this season, holding the 49ers to 147 total yards and 10 first downs, including 39 yards and two first downs in the second half.
After a scoreless first quarter, special-teams blunders by the Bears enabled the 49ers to take a 6-0 lead on Phil Dawson field goals of 31 and 28 yards. The kicks came after Pat O'Donnell had a punt blocked deep in his own territory and Thompson lost a fumble on a kickoff.
Howard's TD runs of 1, 2 and 5 yards gave the Bears a 21-6 lead midway through the third quarter. After Connor Barth's 45-yard field goal, rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd closed the scoring by sacking Gabbert in the end zone for a safety with 1:55 to play.
With the win, the Bears (3-8) snapped a three-game losing streak while dealing the 49ers (1-11) their 11th straight defeat since a Week 1 win over the Rams.
"It's a great feeling," Hicks said. "Just like I said last week, we're ... tired of putting everything you've got out there and not getting the result that you want. We wanted this today and we got it."