September 10, 2014

After a tumultuous offseason, the San Francisco 49ers quieted their critics with a statement win in Week 1.

Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears, on the other hand, still have plenty of questions to answer after a stunning opening defeat.

The 49ers make their regular-season debut at the $1.2 billion Levi's Stadium on Sunday night against the Bears, who haven't won in the Bay area in nearly three decades.

While San Francisco (1-0) entered the year with mixed expectations, coach Jim Harbaugh's team looked every bit like a contender in last Sunday's 28-17 win at Dallas. Cornerback Chris Culliver returned a fumble 35 yards for a touchdown in the opening minute and the 49ers never looked back.

"There's been a lot of rhetoric," Harbaugh said. "This game was about steel in the spine. When it comes to 49er players, that's where they excel."

San Francisco at one point intercepted Tony Romo on three consecutive possessions, finishing with four forced turnovers and three sacks. The 49ers' defensive play has to be considered all the more impressive considering the absences of suspended linebacker Aldon Smith and injured All-Pro NaVorro Bowman.

"Everyone that's been talking about our defense, about how we won't be as good and what not, I don't get caught up in all that," seven-time Pro Bowler Patrick Willis said.

"The only thing that matters to me is how we perform on the field on game day with whoever is on the field. Those guys that aren't with us, they are certainly missed and hopefully they'll be back soon, but right now, we just have to focus on those guys that are out there."

Defensive tackle Ray McDonald took the field despite his recent arrest on suspicion of domestic violence. While pressure has been building to keep him out while prosecutors decide whether to charge him, it appears McDonald will play against Chicago.

The Bears are on the verge of opening 0-2 for the first time since 2003 after last Sunday's embarrassing 23-20 overtime loss to Buffalo. Cutler threw for 349 yards and two touchdowns but also had two picks, the second of which was thrown across his body and directly into the hands of a defensive tackle with the game tied in the fourth quarter.

"I've seen Jay in my time here do a lot of the right things with the football," second-year coach Marc Trestman said. "I'm disappointed for the team and I see how hard he works. ... He lost himself for a minute and made a decision that I know we've seen other great quarterbacks make and he certainly made it there."

Robbie Gould's 37-yard field goal tied things up with 30 seconds remaining in regulation, but the Bears' inability to stop the run ultimately did them in.

"It's too early to start blowing your top and losing focus of what's important here," said defensive end Willie Young, whose team was outgained 193-86 on the ground. "What's important is making corrections and moving on to San Fran for the next week."

The Bears will try to slow down Colin Kaepernick, who threw a pair of touchdown strikes to Vernon Davis last weekend. Kaepernick finished 16 of 23 for 201 yards, improving to 18-6 as a starter.

The first of those starts resulted in an easy 32-7 win over Chicago on Nov. 19, 2012. San Francisco has obliterated the Bears during a seven-game home winning streak, outscoring them by an average of 27.6 points.

Chicago, which has scored more than seven points just once over those last seven trips out west, hasn't won in San Francisco since 1985 when it went on to win the Super Bowl.

Another victory could be hard to come by with several key pieces banged up. Center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson are out, while wide receiver Brandon Marshall missed practice Friday with an ankle injury.

Fellow receiver Alshon Jeffery practiced for the first time this week, but Josh Morgan was downgraded to doubtful with a groin injury.

Marshall and Jeffery combined for 13 catches, 142 yards and a touchdown before Jeffery spent most of the second half on the sideline with a hamstring injury.

Running back Matt Forte figures to again be a big part of the passing game after making eight catches for 87 yards. He finished with 169 yards from scrimmage while averaging 6.8 per touch.

San Francisco's Frank Gore ran for 66 yards against Dallas to become just the 29th NFL player to reach 10,000 for his career. Promising rookie Carlos Hyde carried the ball seven times for 50 yards and a score.

"He looks good, and he looks that way every year," running backs coach Tom Rathman said of the 31-year-old Gore. "It's hard to go through a whole season and take the pounding and not having help. Gosh, if anybody can do it, it would be Frank Gore."

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