Jimmie Ward recorded his first NFL interception and touchdown on Sunday – thanks to a little help from a friend.
At the end of the first quarter, linebacker NaVorro Bowman saw Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler check out of his initial play and suspected he was setting up for a screen pass.
“Jay, he likes to let the play clock get down very low so they can see what the defense likes to do,” Bowman said. “And when he made that check, with the situation we were in, I knew a screen was coming. I just had to communicate that to all 11 guys.”
Ward lined up along the line of scrimmage like he was going to blitz. But when he heard Bowman barking out instructions behind him, the safety instead ran down the line of scrimmage and cut in front of the pass, which was headed to receiver Alshon Jeffery.
He caught the ball, then ran 29 yards for a touchdown, which he punctuated with a front flip over the goal line.
After all, Ward had plenty to celebrate. Before he was drafted by the 49ers in 2014, Ward played at Northern Illinois, which usually plays one game a year at Soldier Field. He said the last time he was in Chicago, his team lost to Iowa by a touchdown.
“I didn’t even go out to warm up,” Ward said. “I know this stadium. I know how the grass is. I was just well-prepared for the game. I watched a lot of film.”
It also was a bit of sweet revenge for Ward, who was beaten for three touchdowns – all three went to receiver Brandon Marshall – in the 49ers’ home loss to the Bears last year. Marshall is now with the Jets, leaving Jeffery as Cutler’s favorite target. He finished with four catches for 85 yards but was held out of the end zone.
Bowman, meanwhile, not only came away with a win but also a sense that the 49ers’ young defense had taken a step forward.
All season he had lamented the team’s youth and lack of experience. In the 12th contest of the year, however, the group didn’t stop fighting.
“This is the NFL. You’re going to lose, you’re going to win,” Bowman said. “But you have to play all 16 games. It’s showing that we’re not giving up.”
Kilgore plays – Daniel Kilgore played his first snaps since October 2014, but they didn’t come at center.
Instead, the 49ers used him as an extra tight end at the end of the first half after Vance McDonald left the game because of a concussion. Marcus Martin started his 12th straight game at center.
Kilgore, meanwhile, was removed from the physically-unable-to-perform list Saturday and was active for Sunday’s game, the first time he’s been in uniform since Oct. 19 last year when he suffered a broken ankle against the Broncos.
He said he was familiar with his Sunday role, having come into games as an extra offensive lineman in 2011 and 2012. He said he’s caught some passes in practice but has not gotten his hands on the ball, other than snapping, in a game either in the NFL or at any point in his life.
“I was always the fat guy on the (offensive) line,” he said.
Both McDonald and outside linebacker Aaron Lynch were checked for concussions and didn’t get back in the game. Linebacker Michael Wilhoite left in the first quarter because of an ankle injury and was replaced by Gerald Hodges from that point on.
Et cetera – According to the Elias Sports Bureau, receiver Torrey Smith is the first 49er with three touchdown catches of 70 or more yards in the same season since John Taylor did it in 1989.
▪ Running back Travaris Cadet, who didn’t play a snap last week, had three runs for six yards and one catch for six yards.
▪ Paraag Marathe, whose title of 49ers team president will change at the end of the season, was seated next to general manager Trent Baalke just as he is at every road game. Marathe’s football duties – such as managing the salary cap – are not expected to change.