Niners' Smith looks like No. 1 in win over Bears

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Frank Gore can see it in his quarterback's
eyes. Alex Smith is ready to lead the San Francisco 49ers.

Brian Griese seems just as ready to lead the Chicago Bears -- and
that might be bad news for Rex Grossman.

Smith passed for 137 yards and led the 49ers to a big early lead
in their 28-14 exhibition victory over the Bears on Friday night.

The 49ers had the league's worst offense and defense last
season, but they were up 17-0 when Smith left after going 16-for-21
with no interceptions in perhaps the most confident performance of
his short NFL career. New receiver Antonio Bryant had five
receptions for 54 yards, and running back Frank Gore also caught
five passes from last season's No. 1 overall draft pick.

"He's a grown man now," said Gore, who rushed for 49 yards and
a score. "I looked in his eyes last year, and his eyes were like

Gore widened his eyes until his lids disappeared, suggesting
fear and uncertainty.

"Now, he's a grown man," Gore concluded. "Alex wants it.
That's what I respect about him. He wants to be great."

Keeping the athletic Smith on the move with play-action and
rollouts, the 49ers drove the ball with surprising ease against the
defense that allowed the NFL's fewest points last season.

Smith led a 13-play scoring drive in the second quarter, pushing
San Francisco 68 yards before Gore's 1-yard TD plunge.

"It was a ton of fun," said Smith, who had one touchdown pass
and 11 interceptions in nine appearances last season. "I had so
much anxious energy to go out and get something done. We worked
really hard during this offseason and camp, and it's starting to
show up."

Meanwhile, Chicago's first-team offense did nothing to erase
memories of last season's bumbling unit, which was carried to the
NFC North title by an outstanding defense. Grossman, who missed the
first 13 regular-season games with a broken ankle, went 3-of-11 for
just 47 yards while Chicago struggled to move forward.

The Niners forced two first-quarter turnovers that led to 10
points, including linebacker Jeff Ulbrich's 32-yard TD return of
Grossman's fumble.

"I just never really established any kind of rhythm," Grossman
said. "I wasn't able to calm down and really feel in control of
what I was doing. Tonight just wasn't a good night, and I'm glad
it's over."

But Griese, signed in the offseason to give provide an
alternative to the injury-plagued incumbent, led a 75-yard scoring
drive late in the first half, capped by Gabe Reid's 12-yard TD

Griese did it again in the second half, guiding an 83-yard drive
ending in Rashied Davis' 41-yard TD reception. Nearly 10 months
after Griese's season ended in Tampa Bay with a knee injury, the
veteran showed he's ready for more action.

"My biggest goal of this preseason is to make sure my knee
feels good, and then show this team that I can lead them down the
field and score," Griese said.

Coach Lovie Smith has insisted the Bears have faith in Grossman,
but Griese -- who went 6-for-7 for 134 yards -- says he wants to
start in Chicago.

When asked if a quarterback controversy was brewing, Smith
smiled and said: "Rex is our starting quarterback. This is our
first game. We'll go on to next week."

Gore got 10 carries and most of the first-team action in the
latest indication he has passed Kevan Barlow, who got just one
carry while nursing a bruised thigh, on the 49ers' depth chart.

But the 49ers' defense also did its share: Mark Bradley fumbled
after a short reception on the Bears' opening drive, and Walt
Harris recovered. Smith moved the 49ers into scoring range with
short passes, and Joe Nedney hit a 33-yard field goal.

Grossman made the Bears' next big mistake, muffing a third-down
snap and then fumbling the ball straight to Ulbrich, who returned
it down the Chicago sideline for his first touchdown. Grossman then
missed two open receivers on the Bears' first drive of the second

Game Notes
The 49ers replaced Smith with Jesse Palmer and Shaun
Hill, who scrambled for a fourth-quarter touchdown. ... Chicago
rested running backs Cedric Benson and Thomas Jones with minor
injuries in front of a half-full Candlestick Park. ... Bears
cornerback Nathan Vasher, whose NFL-record 108-yard return of a
missed field goal ended the first half of Chicago's victory over
the 49ers last season, was shaken up on a hit in the first quarter,
but returned to the game.

NFL News