49ers defense has wake-up call in Chicago

CHICAGO -- First, San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite limped off the field, having re-tweaked a gimpy ankle. He would not return to the game.

Then nose tackle Ian Williams had to be helped off the field. He would return.

Same with NaVorro Bowman, who took a shot to the head from defensive lineman Quinton Dial and had to be checked for a concussion. He passed the test.

Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, though, was concussed in the second half and was lost for the remainder of the game.

Surely, against the Chicago Bears’ high-powered offense, losing players to injury for any amount of time would be the death knell, especially on the road, right? The 49ers entered the game winless on the road at 0-5 and were giving up 35.2 points per game away from home.

But instead of curling up in the fetal position, the 49ers defense fought back and, along with quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s 44-yard touchdown run and 71-yard walk-off touchdown pass to Torrey Smith, helped lead San Francisco to an improbable 26-20 overtime victory against the Bears.

“Today was a chance for us to just not go out here and act like we’re doing a job, but let this affect the years to come,” said Bowman, who had a game-high 14 tackles despite missing time after the blow to the head. “And for the young guys to know, this is the NFL. You’re going to lose; you’re going to win. But you have to continue to play all 16 games.

“I really see that we can really have something special here. Maybe it didn’t come as fast as we wanted, but we definitely can see the process, and it’s looking good for us.”

In fact, and in a roundabout way, it was the 49ers defense that sparked the offense.

Defensive back Jimmie Ward, the 2014 first-round draft pick from nearby Northern Illinois, deked Jay Cutler into thinking he was coming on a blitz and instead took Bowman’s advice that a screen pass was coming.

“I thought [Cutler] was going to check the play again,” Ward said, “but he ended up running it because he thought I was blitzing.”

Twenty-nine yards and one forward somersault into the end zone later, Ward had a pick-six, and, in Game 12, San Francisco scored a first-quarter touchdown for the first time this season.

At that point, the 49ers offense had but five total yards of offense in three series and yet the game was tied at 6-6.

After that, Gabbert & Co. came to life.

For the defense, it was not more of the same when it came to roadies. Not when the 49ers were giving up an average of 464 yards per game on the road, which would be an NFL record, and allowed the Bears 100 yards less on the day.

Sure, there were breakdowns -- the Bears rushed for 170 yards -- but not when it mattered most.

San Francisco forced a three-and-out on the Bears’ lone possession of overtime before their offense again responded with the 71-yard touchdown pass from Gabbert to Smith.

“Last night, we were talking about it,” said coach Jim Tomsula. “You don’t need to play the game on Saturday night.

“The big deal is, get your good night sleep, and when the alarm goes off, let’s go.”

Talk about your wake-up calls.