SANTA CLARA (AP) — If somewhat unknown before as a backup, Colin Kaepernick’s breakout performance against the Chicago Bears two years ago helped make him a star.
The San Francisco 49ers turned what had been hyped as an NFC showdown into a rout on the primetime stage at Candlestick Park, and Kaepernick played a huge role.
He can only hope to be as dominant again while facing Chicago in his Levi’s Stadium debut on Sunday, under the lights once more.
Not that Kaepernick is reflecting when asked about his first start.
“2-0 benchmark is what we’re looking for,” he said.
Thrust into action after then-starter Alex Smith nursed a concussion, Kaepernick threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns as the Niners pounded the Bears 32-7.
Just like his quarterback, coach Jim Harbaugh would rather focus on Kaepernick’s latest performance: 16 of 23 for 201 yards without an interception in a Week 1 win at Dallas.
“Good memories of that,” the coach said of the 2012 game. “And even better memories of the way he played (Sunday).”
Harbaugh described how Kaepernick “wrist-throws a BB to Vernon Davis in the end zone for a touchdown. I mean, in my estimation there’s only two people that could make those two plays, one is Colin Kaepernick and the other has an ‘S’ on his chest.”
Chicago (0-1) looks to bounce back in a hurry from being stunned by the Bills 23-20 in overtime at home. The Bears allowed 17 straight points, and now begin a daunting stretch with six of eight games on the road.
“It’s hard to win on the road in this league, so you want to start off the season with a win at home,” running back Matt Forte said. “It’s just as simple as taking care of the ball a little better, and in the red zone scoring more points when we get down there.”
Here are some things to know about the Bears’ visit to the Bay Area:
The grass factor
This time, the grass should stick. Team officials are counting on it after the initial field had to be re-sodded not once but twice after the original grass failed to root.
“I’ve heard its surface is very good,” Harbaugh said.
The 49ers (1-0) lost their preseason opener at new $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium 34-0 to Denver on Aug. 17 and will try to make a far better impression on the home fans this time. Thousands of supporters made their way to the exits early in the second half.
“It will certainly be exciting to be there, be a part of the event,” said Bears coach Marc Trestman, a former 49ers offensive coordinator.
Chicago must make adjustments on offense given its injuries to Pro Bowl wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson.
Garza and Slauson have ankle injuries and their status was uncertain, meaning a unit that was together all of last season could see two backups forced into action.
San Francisco secondary
The 49ers lost cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock to injuries Week 1, so the 49ers again might be mixing and matching in their secondary. Perrish Cox came in and made his first interception in four years against the Cowboys.
Protecting the ball
Jay Cutler need only watch tape of Tony Romo’s forgettable day last Sunday to know that the smothering 49ers defense will come at him at every chance this weekend, no matter the personnel.
Aldon Smith, who had 5½ sacks against the Bears in that November 2012 meeting, is serving a nine-game suspension.
Jason Campbell started in Cutler’s place that last time against the 49ers while Cutler sat out with a concussion.
Now, Cutler must be more careful. Mistakes won’t cut it against an opportunistic defense. He threw a pair of interceptions last week, but finished with 349 yards passing and two touchdowns.
Chicago revamped its defense in the offseason and still struggled to stop the run in the season opener. So, slowing down Frank Gore and rookie Carlos Hyde could prove quite a challenge.
The Bears know it doesn’t get any easier in a schedule featuring six road games among the first nine.
“You know San Fran is going to come out and run some of that zone-read,” defensive end Willie Young said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we get that for the rest of the year. That’s not just singling us out. It’s across the league. Everybody’s buying stock in that particular play so we’re just going to have to be sound for stopping that zone read.”