SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Brandon Marshall walked up to Jay Cutler and planted a congratulatory kiss on his quarterback’s head.
No doubt the admiration and appreciation – relief, too – went both ways. Down big, Cutler kept his poise on the road. Marshall relied on adrenaline to carry him on a bum ankle, cleared to play just 90 minutes before kickoff.
Cutler found Marshall for two of his three fourth-quarter touchdown passes after much of Chicago’s starting defense went down, and the Bears beat the San Francisco 49ers 28-20 Sunday night to spoil their Levi’s Stadium debut.
“The defense did a great job giving us short fields, causing turnovers and keeping it close enough so that we could get back in it,” Cutler said.
Cutler and Marshall clicked as Chicago erased a late 13-point deficit and quieted the sellout crowd. Cutler threw for two scores in a 27-second span early in the final period, aided by the gutsy play of a backup cornerback.
Kyle Fuller made two late interceptions for the depleted Chicago secondary, and the first set up the go-ahead score.
“We all still had confidence, we knew we were going to pull it out,” said Fuller, the Bears’ first-round pick in this year’s draft.
Kaepernick was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for “inappropriate language” following Fuller’s first big play. That gave the Bears first-and-goal on the 3, and Cutler threw a 3-yard TD pass to Martellus Bennett for a 21-20 lead.
Kaepernick threw three interceptions in all, lost a fumble and his cool, a far cry from his breakout start on the Monday night stage nearly two years ago in a rout of the Bears. Cutler sat out that night with a concussion.
“We hurt ourselves,” Kaepernick said, insisting he didn’t say anything wrong.
A sloppy game filled with 26 penalties – 16 by the Niners – and a crazy collapse overshadowed the fanfare of the regular-season debut for the sparkling $1.2 billion stadium.
The Bears (1-1), in a stretch with six of eight games on the road, go home with some serious momentum despite injuries on both sides of the ball. Cutler finished 23 of 34 for 176 yards and four TDs.
“Jay has had an excellent start to the season minus one play,” coach Marc Trestman said. “He led the way this whole week.”
Five key defenders are hurt: cornerbacks Sherrick McManis (quadriceps) and Charles Tillman (triceps), defensive end Trevor Scott (foot), safety Chris Conte (shoulder) and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (concussion). Trestman had no updates on the injured players.
The 49ers (1-1) had a 17-7 halftime lead, but missed an opportunity to grab an early lead in the NFC West after the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks lost earlier in the day at San Diego.
“This is very disappointing, our first game in the new stadium,” linebacker Patrick Willis said. “We put the loss on us as a football team. … We have to cut down on the penalties.”
Michael Crabtree caught a touchdown pass on his 27th birthday for one of his seven receptions, and Frank Gore ran for a score but also had his 54-yard TD burst negated by Anquan Boldin’s costly holding penalty.
Cutler helped the Bears get on the board with a 25-yard run late in the first half. He took a jarring hit from Quinton Dial with 56 seconds remaining, but stayed in the game and threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Marshall, who made a leaping, one-handed catch to pull the ball into his body as he fell into the end zone.
“I just threw my hand out there and it stuck,” Marshall cracked.
What a way for Chicago to forget that bitter 23-20 overtime loss to the Bills at home in Week 1.
San Francisco didn’t give the ball away once in a season-opening win at Dallas.
In the first half, the 49ers outgained Chicago 197-93 and out-penalized the Bears 10-7 for 85 lost yards. The much-scrutinized field featured visible chunks of loose sod after new grass was laid for a third time since April.
Kaepernick made his first career start against the Bears in November 2012, and then held onto the No. 1 job over Alex Smith.
A concussion to now-Chiefs QB Smith thrust Kaepernick into the spotlight that night, and he threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns as the Niners pounded the Bears 32-7.
The 49ers were embarrassed at home for the second time in a month. They lost 34-0 in a rout by Denver in the first preseason game in the new stadium.
Chicago’s patchwork offensive line looked shaky early with center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson each sidelined by ankle injuries.
“We played four quarters tonight,” Trestman said. “The guys gathered themselves and went back to work.”
NOTES: San Francisco TEs Vance McDonald (knee) and Vernon Davis (ankle) were hurt. … The 49ers lost a home opener for the first time under fourth-year coach Jim Harbaugh.