The Niners hope quarterback Alex Smith can play Monday night vs. the Bears. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
The Monday night game between the Bears and 49ers is a juicy matchup of two of the NFC’s best teams.
But over the past week, some question marks have appeared over the NFC North-leading Bears (7-2) and NFC West-leading 49ers (6-2-1) that leave fans of both teams in doubt about what they might see Monday night.
For one, quarterbacks Jay Cutler of the Bears and Alex Smith of the 49ers suffered concussions last week and aren’t certain to play, meaning backups Jason Campbell and Colin Kaepernick could have starring roles. And for another, Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh had what the team called a minor heart procedure Thursday to address an irregular heartbeat.
Though Harbaugh was expected back at practice Friday, concerns over the health of the coach who’s turned around the franchise were expressed by Niners players Thursday. If Harbaugh were to be absent for any length of time, the energy and passion he brings to the team could be in danger of vanishing, too.
“Sometimes I feel like there’s five Jim Harbaughs in this building, because he’s everywhere,” reserve QB Scott Tolzien told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “So today it was a little different with everyone wondering, because he’s always flying around.”
Assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Brad Seely ran the team in practice Thursday, and would be in charge of the team Monday night if Harbaugh is unable to resume his duties, but the Niners expect Harbaugh to be back in plenty of time to be on the sideline Monday night.
Smith, too, appears headed toward his 29th consecutive start. Smith practiced Thursday for the second straight day, though reportedly wore a black jersey that signified “no contact allowed.”
Cutler has yet to practice this week, but Bears coach Lovie Smith said his quarterback could start Monday night even if he doesn’t practice this week.
“I feel good, better,” Smith told reporters Thursday. “I’m just going along with the process right now. Nothing’s been decided. It’s a whole long process that’s up to the doctors. I just kind of do what they tell me. Contact obviously is the final straw.”
No matter who the Niners QB is Monday, he’ll be challenged by an opportunistic Bears defense that leads the league with 30 turnovers (including 19 interceptions). Against the Texans last week, Chicago intercepted Matt Schaub twice.
The Chicago defense is led by standout linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher., who helped hold the Texans to a season-low 215 yards of total offense.
Chicago knows it will have its hands full trying to stop the 49ers ground game. Frank Gore twice has had 100-yard games against the Bears.
“They’re a different style than Houston, but similar as far as the amount of plays that they run the ball,” Bears defensive end Corey Woolton told CBS Sports. “They’re more of a downhill power scheme. They like to run the ball a lot. They lead the league in rushing average per game. We’ve got to come and really stop the run and get physical with them.”