By halftime Monday night against the Bears, Aldon Smith already had three sacks.
By the end of the game, the second-year 49ers linebacker had 5½ and the NFL lead with 15 after a dominating performance against the Bears in which he abused both Chicago offensive tackles.
All night long in the 49ers’ 32-7 victory, Smith was either running round them or bullrushing over them to get to quarterback Jason Campbell.
Not only did he have 5½ sacks – just a half sack off the team record of six in a game (held by Fred Dean) – but he forced two fumbles.
“I have a thing for night games,” Smith told the Bay Area News Group’s Steve Corkran of his performance. “I love the lights.”
Over his first two seasons in the NFL, however, Smith has been a star in day games, night games, games at home and games on the road. Wherever and whenever Smith plays, he’s proven to be one of the NFL’s most dynamic pass rushers.
The 6-foot-4, 258-pound Smith had 14 sacks as a rookie in 2011 and now has 29 with six games remaining in his second season, meaning he’s a lock to break the NFL record for most sacks over the first two years of a career. Reggie White, with 31, and Derrick Thomas, with 30, are the only two players with more in their opening two seasons.
Smith also is on pace to break the 49ers’ season record of 18 sacks in a season held by Cedrick Hardman in 1971.
Over his past three games, Smith has 9½ sacks.
With the Bears trailing early, backup quarterback Jason Campbell (playing for starter Jay Cutler, out with a concussion), was forced to focus on the passing game, and the 49ers were able to go after him. Defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald were collapsing the pocket and linebackers Smith and Ahmad Brooks were coming from all angles.
“We were playing our defense, stopping the run and then stopping the pass,” Smith told The Associated Press. “I was just playing my game and getting after it.”
Chicago offensive tackles J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carmini were having trouble containing Smith, whose play was drawing rave reviews from “Monday Night Football” analyst and former coach Jon Gruden. Numerous replays showed Smith overpowering the tackles or spinning or rushing past them on stunts.
“If you sense a weakness, you’ve got to take advantage of it, and that’s what we did,” Smith told Corkran.
The 7-2-1 49ers, who take on the Saints in New Orleans this Sunday, will need to put pressure on quarterback Drew Brees if they want to slow down the Saints' passing attack. After losing their first four games of the season, the Saints have now won five of their past six games and are back to .500 at 5-5.
Cornerback Carlos Rogers says Smith is one of the team’s greatest weapons against passing games. With Smith pressuring quarterbacks, the pressure is off the 49ers secondary.
“That’s good for the secondary because we don’t have to cover long,” Rogers told Corkran. “Once he collapses the pocket … the quarterback is down. He’s amazing.”