CHICAGO -- Trailing by a touchdown and a suddenly dubious extra-point with about three-and-a-half minutes to play, Jim Tomsula pulled his quarterback aside before Blaine Gabbert took the field.
The San Francisco 49ers were at their own 36-yard line and Tomsula had something to say.
“Enjoy this,” Tomsula instructed Gabbert. “Enjoy it.
“You get opportunities like that, you have to enjoy them.”
Oh, Gabbert enjoyed himself on that series all right. He took the 49ers on a six-play, 64-yard drive that ended, appropriately enough, with Gabbert taking off up the middle on 3rd-and-3 from the Chicago Bears’ 44-yard line for his first career touchdown run.
Then, on the first play of the 49ers’ second possession of overtime, Gabbert hit Torrey Smith for a 71-yard game-winning touchdown.
49ers 26, Bears 20.
Gabbert’s personal stats were as impressive: 75 yards rushing and the touchdown on six carries; 196 yards through the air and a touchdown without an interception in completing 18 of 32 passes for an 84.9 passer rating.
His late-game heroics, though, are what helped the 49ers the most ... along with Bears placekicker Robbie Gould missing a 36-yard field goal wide left at the end of regulation.
“Those are the times that make playing this game so special,” Gabbert said. “You put in so much work throughout the week to have the ball in your hand last, coming down the wire with two minutes at the end of the game and even in overtime, it’s even more magnified.
“I just tried to lead the team to the best of my ability and get a touchdown by any means possible.”
Even deposed starter Colin Kaepernick took to social media to congratulate the 49ers and the man who replaced him under center.
Congrats to Blaine and the rest of the team on the great road win! Keep Rollin!— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) December 6, 2015
It’s all pretty heady for a guy seen as one of the bigger draft busts in recent NFL history after the Jacksonville Jaguars selected him 10th overall in the 2011 draft out of Missouri.
“Blaine can play,” said Smith, who, before his walk-off catch, had one reception for 5 yards. “I’ve been saying that since Day 1. I don’t think people believe in his athleticism [but] he can run, too.
“Folks were probably shocked. I’m happy for him ... we always feel like no matter what the score is, whether we’re up or down, we’re able to make the play with him back there.”
And confidence is key. Not only for Gabbert to have it in himself, but also to glean from his co-workers, so to speak, on both sides of the ball.
“I’ve seen Blaine run,” inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “He’s got a little savviness to him. We love it as his teammates. I think it’s showing out there the way the offense is really playing for him. It was exciting to watch him run down that field.”
Looking forward, Kaepernick, who is on injured reserve and rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder, is due $11.9 million from the 49ers if he is on the roster April 1. He has a salary cap number of more than $16.76 million for 2016, per ESPN Stats & Info. Gabbert, meanwhile, has a cap number of $2.25 million for next year.
It was Gabbert’s fourth start with the 49ers and he is 2-2, having defeated the Atlanta Falcons in his first game before the bye week and then losing at the Seattle Seahawks two weeks ago and to the Arizona Cardinals last week.
Unlike Kaepernick, who was 2-6 as the San Francisco starter this season, Gabbert looks comfortable in the pocket and is playing within himself, not forcing passes. And, like Tomsula advised, having fun.
Especially on his game-winning heave.
“It was set up by all the throws we had underneath early on in the game,” Gabbert said, “all the runs we ran out of that formation. It worked perfectly. Torrey did a great job tracking the ball in the air and using his speed to outrun everybody.
“They took the bait and he did a great, great job selling the deep cross and hitting the back pylon. I just tried to cut it early with as much air as possible and let him find it when the ball was in the air. It worked out beautifully.”
Tomsula’s advice, and Gabbert’s throw.