The 49ers played a stretch of Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears without both starting inside linebackers and then lost arguably their top defender, outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, to a concussion.
No matter. Despite the missing pieces and more youth than normal, the 49ers had one of their finest defensive efforts of the season in their 26-20 win and undoubtedly the best away from Levi’s Stadium.
“I think today showed what we were trying to (communicate) to all the players: Keep fighting no matter what’s happening in the game,” inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “That decides who wins the game. If (we) let adversity affect how we played, we wouldn’t have had a shot like we did.”
Bowman was – briefly – one of the players sent to the locker room. He was chasing a screen pass midway through the second quarter when 300-plus-pound teammate Quinton Dial arrived to help bring down the ballcarrier.
“His knee hit me right on the top of the head,” Bowman said. “(I was) kind of woozy. But I went in to get a concussion protocol, passed all the tests and was able to return.”
Bowman had a game-best 14 tackles and is second in the league in total tackles with 119, three behind Indianapolis Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.
Bowman played most of Sunday’s game alongside fellow inside linebacker Gerald Hodges after starter Michael Wilhoite left with an ankle injury on the 49ers’ second defensive series. Hodges was in on 65 of the 49ers’ 78 defensive snaps, had six tackles and earned a strong, plus-2.4 grade from Pro Football Focus.
Lynch, who leads the 49ers with 6 1/2 sacks, left in the third quarter and is going through the league-mandated concussion protocol. So is tight end Vance McDonald, who was injured in the second quarter.
Lynch played 40 snaps, and fellow starter Ahmad Brooks was on the field for 50 plays. Brooks said he did not sit out snaps because of his toe injury – he was listed as probable – and said he suspected coaches wanted to see more of youngsters Eli Harold and Corey Lemonier.
Neither Lemonier, who played 38 snaps, nor Harold, who played 24, had an official statistic. Lemonier dropped a would-be interception in overtime on a pass that might have been tipped at the line of scrimmage.
Still, the 49ers held the Bears to 364 yards, certainly not amazing but the lowest on the road this season. In fact, they out-Fangio’d Chicago defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, whose hallmarks are taking away big plays and keeping opponents out of the end zone.
Jay Cutler had pass plays of 31 and 30 yards to his favorite target, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, but the Bears’ quarterback did not pass for a touchdown, had an interception returned for a touchdown and finished with his lowest passer rating, 64.2, of the season.
Aside from Brooks, 31, Bowman, 27, was the oldest defensive player on the field by game’s end. He said he had a meeting with his teammates Saturday night.
Said Bowman: “I told them the expectations that everyone has on us and that it was our job to get it right.”
No return for Smelter – The deadline for moving DeAndre Smelter to the 53-man roster passed Monday, which means the rookie receiver won’t play or practice over the last four weeks.
Smelter, a fourth-round draft pick, tore his ACL while playing for Georgia Tech on Nov. 29, 2014. He had been allowed to practice with the 49ers over the last three weeks but now reverts to the non-football-injury/reserve list.
Smelter was on a timetable similar to that of center Daniel Kilgore, who was on the physically-unable-to-perform list to start the season. Kilgore was moved to the 53-man roster Saturday and played six snaps – his first since Oct. 19, 2014 – against Chicago.
Schedule change – The NFL announced Monday that the 49ers’ game Dec. 20 against the Cincinnati Bengals at Levi’s Stadium has been moved to 1:25 p.m. The game between the Arizona Cardinals and the host Philadelphia Eagles has replaced the 49ers-Bengals on “Sunday Night Football” at 5:30 p.m.