November 8, 2015

1970: 49ers Take Control in Second Half to Defeat Bears

The San Francisco 49ers were leading the NFC West with a 5-1-1 record as they took on the Bears in Chicago on November 8, 1970. The 49ers were in their third season under Head Coach Dick Nolan and had a productive offense directed by QB John Brodie (pictured above). WR Gene Washington was outstanding and the group of running backs, led by Ken Willard, was effective behind good blocking. Most improved was the defense, while rookie CB Bruce Taylor was providing an added bonus as an explosive punt returner. Often maligned over the years as an underachieving team, the 49ers appeared to finally be putting it all together.

The Bears, coached by Jim Dooley, were 3-5 and dealing with multiple injuries. Most notably, the loss of HB Gale Sayers early in the going badly damaged the running game and the key player on defense, MLB Dick Butkus, was playing on a bad knee. QB Jack Concannon was a canny but mediocre passer, while WR Dick Gordon was proving to be a dependable receiver. One area where the club excelled was at returning kicks, with DB Ron Smith and WR Cecil Turner doing the honors.

There were 45,607 fans in attendance on a cloudy day at Wrigley Field. The Bears had the game’s first possession and went three-and-out. Starting from their own 27, the 49ers advanced into Chicago territory on a series that featured a pass from John Brodie to TE Bob Windsor for 23 yards. Bruce Gossett kicked a 40-yard field goal to give the visitors the early lead.

A 46-yard kickoff return by Ron Smith gave Chicago good starting field position. Facing third-and-six, Jack Concannon (pictured at left) threw to Dick Gordon for a pickup of 18 yards and, when the drive stalled at the San Francisco 29, Gossett booted a field goal from 36 yards to tie the score at 3-3.

The 49ers punted following their next possession and the Bears drove 52 yards in five plays. Concannon completed four passes, the last to Gordon for a 25-yard touchdown. Percival added the extra point to make it a 10-3 tally. Chicago then got the ball right back when HB Bill Tucker fumbled at the end of his kickoff return and Cecil Turner recovered at the San Francisco 23. The Bears lost yardage from there, but padded their lead with a Percival field goal from 37 yards. The first quarter ended with the home team in front by 13-3.

Following another punt by the 49ers, the Bears had to punt in turn from their own 46 and Bruce Taylor returned it 78 yards to the Chicago nine, where HB Ronnie Bull made a diving tackle. Three plays later, Tucker powered into the end zone for a TD and Gossett kicked the point after to narrow the score to 13-10.

The Bears had to punt from deep in their own territory but, after reaching the Chicago 27, the 49ers came up empty when Gossett’s 34-yard field goal try sailed wide to the right. Primarily thanks to the running of Bull and FB Ross Montgomery, the Bears reached midfield before having to punt once again. Taking over with 50 seconds left in the first half, Brodie completed passes to FB Ken Willard for 12 yards and WR Dick Witcher for 25, but on the final play before halftime Gossett’s field goal attempt was blocked.

Chicago immediately got a break at the start of the third quarter when Tucker again fumbled on the second half kickoff return and the Bears gained possession at the San Francisco 28. They reached the 12 before Percival kicked a 19-yard field goal that extended the home team’s lead to 16-10.

The 49ers responded with an 11-play, 80-yard drive. Brodie completed seven passes along the way, three of them to Willard including one for a 27-yard gain on the second play and a seven-yard TD pass. Gossett’s extra point put the Niners ahead by one at 17-16.

The Bears advanced into San Francisco territory as Concannon completed passes to TE Rich Coady for 14 yards and Gordon for 13, and in between the 49ers were penalized for defensive holding. But Concannon was sacked by DE Tommy Hart for a loss of 24 yards, and while they were able to gain some of that back on third down, the Bears were forced to settle for a Percival field goal attempt from 44 yards that was wide to the left. Two plays later, the 49ers extended their lead when Brodie threw long to Gene Washington (pictured above) for a 79-yard touchdown. Gossett converted and San Francisco took a 24-16 lead into the fourth quarter.

The Bears had to punt again early in the final period and the 49ers picked up 15 yards when FB Mike Hull was penalized for interfering with Taylor’s fair catch. San Francisco proceeded to drive 70 yards in 12 plays. HB Doug Cunningham had a 15-yard run and Brodie completed four passes, the longest to Windsor for a 35-yard gain to the Chicago 12 and the last to Washington for an eight-yard TD. Gossett’s kick made the score 31-16 and effectively sealed the win for the 49ers.

Bobby Douglass was at quarterback when the Bears started their next series and gave up an interception to LB Frank Nunley that led to one last San Francisco touchdown on a pass from QB Steve Spurrier, who spelled Brodie (after he completed his 2000th career pass), to Willard from four yards out. The try for extra point was blocked but it was inconsequential as the 49ers won by a final score of 37-16.   

San Francisco had a big lead in total yards (387 to 178), especially via passing (340 to 87), and also in first downs (19 to 11). The Bears turned the ball over twice, to one suffered by the 49ers.

John Brodie completed 21 of 28 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns with none intercepted. Gene Washington had 5 catches for 119 yards and two TDs and Bob Windsor contributed 82 yards on his four receptions. Ken Willard led the club with 7 pass receptions, which gained 64 yards and included two touchdowns, and also rushed for 29 yards on 8 carries.

For the Bears, Jack Concannon was successful on 10 of 19 throws for 104 yards and a TD, also giving up no interceptions (two of the six passes thrown by Bobby Douglass were picked off late in the game). Dick Gordon (pictured below) caught four passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. Ross Montgomery rushed for 42 yards on 11 attempts and Ronnie Bull also carried 11 times, gaining 32 yards.

“We played a good three quarters and, without making excuses, we were hurt at a lot of positions,” summed up Chicago’s Coach Dooley. “Our players were playing their hearts out.”

The 49ers stayed a game in front of the Rams in the NFC West and they went on to finish on top with a 10-3-1 record. They defeated Minnesota in the Divisional playoff before losing to the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game. Chicago ended up at 6-8 and fourth in the NFC Central.

John Brodie had the finest season of his career, leading the NFL in pass completions (223), yards (2941), TD passes (24), and overall passer rating (93.8). He received MVP honors from the Associated Press and NEA as well as being a consensus first-team All-NFL and Pro Bowl selection. Gene Washington also received consensus first-team All-NFL and Pro Bowl honors as he caught 53 passes for a league-leading 1100 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. Dick Gordon topped the NFL with 71 pass receptions and 13 receiving TDs while gaining 1026 yards and, like Brodie and Washington, gained first-team All-NFL and Pro Bowl recognition.