SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Trailing the 49ers 20-7 entering the fourth quarter Sunday night, the Bears were seemingly on the cusp of stumbling to a disappointing 0-2 start.
Their offense was stuck in neutral, their defense had lost three starters and two reserves with injuries, and their special teams unit was plagued by penalties and other mistakes.
But just like a horror movie villain, the Bears suddenly sprung to life without warning, outscoring the 49ers 21-0 in the fourth quarter en route to a thrilling 28-20 victory.
"They went to work and played four quarters," said coach Marc Trestman. "We certainly didn't start well in all three phases. Guys gathered themselves and went back to work. I just want to congratulate our coaches and our players for staying with it and finishing the entire game."
It was the Bears' biggest comeback win since they erased a 20-point deficit in a 24-23 Monday night victory over the Cardinals in Arizona on Oct. 16, 2006.
In the magical fourth quarter Sunday night, Jay Cutler threw three touchdown passes, two of which came on short fields after a pair of impressive interceptions by rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller. Cutler passed for a total of four touchdowns in the game for the sixth time in his nine-year NFL career.
Brandon Marshall, who was a game-time decision due to an ankle injury, caught three TD passes, including a 5-yarder early in the fourth quarter that drew the Bears to within 20-14.
On the next play, Fuller intercepted a Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Michael Crabtree and returned it 20 yards to the San Francisco 6. Cutler followed with a 3-yard TD pass to tight end Martellus Bennett, giving the Bears their first lead at 21-20 and their second touchdown in :21.
Fuller was in the game in place of Kyle Fuller, who exited in the third quarter with a triceps injury. The Bears also lost defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (concussion), safety Chris Conte (shoulder), cornerback Sherrick McManis (quad) and defensive end Trevor Scott (foot).
On San Francisco's next possession, Fuller again picked off Kaepernick, returning it 18 yards to the 49ers' 42. After completing a 29-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery, Cutler rifled a 3-yard TD pass to Marshall, giving the Bears a 28-20 lead with 6:55 left in the fourth quarter.
The 49ers reached the Chicago 17, but Kaepernick just barely failed to connect with Crabtree in the end zone on fourth-and-nine, enabled the Bears to even their record at 1-1. The win created a four-way tie in the NFC North and provided redemption after a Week 1 overtime loss to the Bills.
"I'm very proud of our football team," Trestman said, "the way that they overcame the adversity of last week by going back to work, taking it one day at a time, and alleviating the noise that was going on outside of our building, which was expected based on the way we played a week ago."
The Bears ultimately spoiled the grand opening of the 49ers' $1.3 billion Levi's Stadium, snapping an eight-game road losing streak to San Francisco with their first win since 1985.
But things looked bleak early. Before scoring touchdowns on four straight possessions beginning late in the first half, the Bears' first six drives all resulted in Pat O'Donnell punts.
The first one was blocked by Aaron Lynch, rolling out of bounds at the Chicago 8. Three plays later, Kaepernick's 3-yard TD pass to Crabtree gave the 49ers a quick 7-0 lead.
San Francisco extended its lead to 17-0 on Phil Dawson's 28-yard field goal late in the first quarter and Frank Gore's 8-yard TD run with 2:22 left in the first half.
Outgained 197-33 in total yards at that point, Cutler engineered a crucial seven-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 5-yard TD pass to Marshall, cutting the deficit to 17-7 with :13 left in the first half.
"We had to have it," Cutler said of the touchdown.
"I thought it was incredibly important to have something to hang our hat on," Trestman said. "We fell apart in all three phases [to open the game]. We couldn't get anything started and we got in our own way on a lot of it, with no disrespect to the 49ers."
The Bears defense was solid in the first half and spectacular in the second, holding the 49ers to three points over the final two quarters. The unit forced Kaepernick to commit four turnovers—three interceptions and a lost fumble—and sacked him four times in the game.
"So many things happened in the first half to our football team we were lucky to be down 10 points at halftime," Trestman said. "We just settled down and started playing and then guys started making plays. Our pass rush really started to unfold. We put pressure on Colin and things started happening. It was almost a complete inverted second half with all three phases coming together."