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Stewart era starts poorly for Chicago

9/8/2003

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- As Ahmed Plummer raced downfield for his
game-breaking interception return, a white-haired man with a
headset ran right along with him.

Dennis Erickson promised more aggression and enthusiasm when he
took charge of the San Francisco 49ers. The new coach backed up
those words with a joyful sideline sprint that was one of countless
high points in his 49-7 debut victory Sunday over the bumbling
Chicago Bears.

Erickson admitted to a serious case of butterflies before the
game, but his team showed no nerves while flattening the Bears for
their biggest victory since 1989. San Francisco forced five
turnovers, outgained Chicago 391 yards to 127 and filled a
highlight reel with big plays on offense, defense and special
teams.

The 49ers scored 23 points during an impressive rally in the
final 6:01 of the first half, turning it into a blowout. In the
locker room afterward, Terrell Owens and defensive coordinator Jim
Mora presented Erickson with the game ball.

"To be honest, you can't ask for a better start," Erickson
said. "We blitzed a lot, we came after them ... and everybody did
their job. It was a great team effort."

The 49ers took a 33-7 halftime lead with their biggest offensive
output in a half since 1992. Erickson left in nearly all of his
starters to finish two fourth-quarter drives.

The highlights were numerous. Jeff Garcia passed for 229 yards
and two touchdowns, and Garrison Hearst caught a TD pass and rushed
for another score. Plummer returned an interception 68 yards for a
score, and Jimmy Williams and Brandon Lloyd made exceptional
special-teams plays.

Tai Streets had a TD catch, Owens caught seven passes for 112
yards, Plummer had two interceptions and Jeff Chandler kicked five
field goals.

"It was a great feeling. It was like we were running downhill
all day," said Williams, who had an interception and forced a
fumble. "We just got on a roll, and everybody made one big play
after another."

The Bears were finished early in their worst defeat since a 47-0
loss at Houston on Nov. 6, 1977. Chicago floundered at every level
in quarterback Kordell Stewart's first game since leaving
Pittsburgh as a free agent.

Stewart, who infuriated Steelers fans for eight years with
erratic performances, went 14-of-34 for 95 yards, missing open
receivers and forcing balls to covered ones. He was under constant
pressure from the 49ers' blitzing defense, and his teammates
dropped passes and missed blocking assignments with alarming
frequency.

"I'm embarrassed," All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher said.
"That was the worst game we've played since I've been here. When
it goes bad, it goes bad. We just didn't play well."

During two dominant scoring drives in the first quarter, the
49ers showcased several of the aggressive innovations promised by
Erickson. San Francisco employed a variety of formations, including
sets with five receivers or two tight ends.

Question on the Bears: How long before we see Rex Grossman on the field?

It should be soon. Kordell Stewart was brought in as a kind of placeholder and he didn't look good today at all. Grossman reminds me of a Brett Favre when he was a backup … he doesn't look comfortable in that role and believes he should be starting.

Question on the 49ers: Have the 49ers found offensive balance or was today an aberration?
It's a little of both. For the 49ers to be successful, they have to find a third receiver. They played an inferior team and beat them like they were supposed to do.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

Chicago only showed signs of life during a brief stretch of the
first half. Mike Brown intercepted Garcia's poorly thrown ball
inside the 49ers 15, setting up Stewart's 3-yard pass to Desmond
Clark.

The defense then forced a punt, but Williams forced and
recovered rookie Bobby Wade's fumble at the Chicago 6. Garcia
scored on a 3-yard run.

Then Lloyd, a rookie receiver who had an outstanding camp,
blocked Brad Maynard's punt at the 18. Streets caught a pass across
the middle and scored.

"After a defeat like that, you don't feel good about
anything," Chicago coach Dick Jauron said. "It just snowballed.
... I know that there are some things on film that will show up
that are going to be OK, but it just seemed like nothing went
right."

Stewart got the Bears into San Francisco territory in the final
minute before halftime. But his inept throw behind two receivers
was picked off by Plummer, who returned it untouched for his first
career touchdown.

Williams then intercepted Stewart with 18 seconds left, setting
up Chandler's half-ending field goal. The crowd at Candlestick Park
gave a lengthy standing ovation as the 49ers left the field.

"We took advantage of what they gave us, and you saw what
happened," Owens said.

Game notes
San Francisco LT Scott Gragg missed the game with an ankle
injury, ending his streak of 112 consecutive starts. ... The Bears
lost RG Chris Villarial to a sprained knee in the first quarter.
... The 49ers scored more points than any of Erickson's teams did
during his four seasons in charge of the Seattle Seahawks from
1995-98.