Jimmie Ward had an unforgettable night against the Bears on national television. But not in a good way.
There he was, No. 25, giving up a touchdown pass to the Bears’ Brandon Marshall. And then another. And then a third.
It was among the lowlights in a game filled with them for the 49ers, who let a big lead slip away in a 28-20 loss to Chicago in the regular-season debut of Levi’s Stadium.
Yet as bad a night as it was for Ward, the rookie safety-turned-nickel corner, Ward actually wants to revisit it in his mind, again and again, to get the most out of it.
If a rookie year is a learning experience, then Sunday’s was an advanced course.
Though Ward sometimes was in excellent position, the 6-foot-4 Marshall dominated the 5-foot-11 Ward when it counted.
“It’s only gong to get me better,” Ward told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group.
Ward knows he’ll have other matchups against other big receivers, and he’d better be able to adapt and overcome. If coaches spot a weakness in the NFL, they go after it.
“I feel like Marshall played like an All-Pro,” Ward told Inman. “I was challenging him. I was trying to press him and get in his face, but he made great catches. He’s good with his body and his height.”
After the game, Marshall and Bears head coach Marc Trestman said the 49ers defense had a great game plan for the game. For the first three quarters of the game, the Niners secondary was pressing the Chicago receivers, sitting on short routes and daring quarterback Jay Cutler to go long.
“They were smart about how they played us,” Marshall told a Chicago reporter. “We knew that if we did end up throwing it deep, it would just be a jump ball.”
In fact, all three of Marshall’s touchdown catches came when he had a physical advantage over ward – a leaping one-handed grab in the end zone, a short catch on which Marshall posted up on Ward to shield him and a fade route in the end zone that was placed perfectly where Ward couldn’t get to it.
San Francisco safety Eric Reid said defensive backs often were in position, but “Cutler made some good throws in the red zone (and) they made some good catches.”
Niners inside linebacker Patrick Willis said Ward actually was playing hard and “doing what we were asking him to do.”
“They just made plays,” he told Inman. “Hat’s off to him (Ward). My thing I said to him was to not get yourself down, to take this game and understand the magnitude of the NFL and the receivers here.”
It won’t get easier. Next up Sunday for the 1-1 49ers are the 2-0 Arizona Cardinals, with tall standout wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald (6-foot-3) and Michael Floyd (6-foot-3).