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Top 5 takeaways from 49ers' Week 13 win over Bears

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Top 5 takeaways from 49ers' Week 13 win over Bears

Everybody knew the way this game was going. But when Robbie Gould lined up for his expected game-winning field goal, there were many players on the 49ers’ sideline who predicted he would miss the kick. Receiver Torrey Smith was not one of them.

“This is the kind of year we’re having right now,” Smith said. “Please, can we have a miracle?” It may not have been a miracle, but the kick hooked wide, and the 49ers pulled out an improbable and highly emotional 26-20 victory over the Chicago Bears in overtime at Soldier Field.

Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s game:

1) Moving in right direction?
The scene outside the 49ers’ locker room was joyous. Owner Denise DeBartolo-York was there to greet coach Jim Tomsula with a hug as he came off the field. Obviously, the last thing the 49ers want to do is fire Tomsula after one season, and the victory over the Bears certainly swings the pendulum a lot further in Tomsula’s direction. It seems as if the 49ers would have to completely fall apart in their final four games for Tomsula not to get a second season as the man in charge. Certainly, the 49ers are far from a perfect team – and far from a good team, for that matter – but if ownership and management want to see continued, steady improvement, they can make the case that it happened Sunday in the form of their first road victory of the season. Again, the debate can be made whether the 49ers were lucky to win this game or not, but a win is a win.

2) Gabbert in the clutch
Aside from an 81-yard scoring drive in the second quarter, the 49ers’ offense did nothing for most of Sunday’s game with seven three-and-outs against Vic Fangio's unit. There was really no indication the 49ers had much of a chance when they took over with 3:27 remaining in regulation in need of a 64-yard touchdown drive to tie the score. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert supplied one of the plays of the year with his 44-yard scramble for a touchdown. Then, in overtime, he teamed up with Smith for the offensive play of the year – a 71-yard touchdown pass for the win. Gabbert struggled to do anything against the Bears' defense on Sunday, but his late-game performance is another reason he has put himself into position as the most-likely starting quarterback for the 2016 season.

[MAIOCCO: Gabbert, 49ers enjoy comeback victory over Bears]

3) Secondary improving
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler entered this game playing the best football of his 10-year career. And while Chicago is not exactly loaded with playmakers, the 49ers’ defensive backfield did a very good job from start to finish. Nickel back Jimmie Ward diagnosed a screen pass in the first quarter that he turned into a pick-six that covered 29 yards. Cornerbacks Tramaine Brock and Kenneth Acker were good in coverage. Free safety Eric Reid had one of his better games, and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt had a wow moment with his aggressive takedown of Cutler to account for the 49ers’ only sack of the game. Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini seems to have gotten the unit to a spot in which they are creating the right amount of deception without creating problems for themselves by being out of position.

4) Up and down special teams
The 49ers’ special teams nearly blew it at the end of regulation when Bears return man Deonte Thompson found a huge lane where Travaris Cadet and Marcus Cromartie were blocked out of the play. But Thompson’s 74-yard kickoff return went for naught when Gould missed the field goal at the end of the regulation. Bruce Ellington had a 40-yard kickoff return to open overtime, but that was the only mark he made on the game. The 49ers’ best player through most of Sunday’s game was rookie Bradley Pinion, who averaged 48.1 yards, with a career-best of 62 yards, on nine punts.

5) Depth tested
The 49ers stuck together to win the game despite experiencing a rash of injuries. They suited up just two tight ends, and Vance McDonald sustained a concussion in the first half that made him unavailable for most of the game. As a result, fullback Bruce Miller and center Daniel Kilgore lined up at tight end when the 49ers wanted to feature their power running game. Inside linebacker Gerald Hodges got his most extensive playing time because of Michael Wilhoite’s ankle injury. Even special-teamer Nick Bellore was pressed into action when NaVorro Bowman missed seven snaps to get checked for a concussion. The 49ers also found themselves short-handed at outside linebacker when their best pass-rusher, Aaron Lynch, sustained a concussion in the second half.

How George Kittle's run-blocking enthusiasm rubs off on rest of 49ers

How George Kittle's run-blocking enthusiasm rubs off on rest of 49ers

SANTA CLARA -- George Kittle loves to run block, and his joy for that aspect of the game has become contagious to his 49ers teammates. 

It’s not often that a player who has led their team in receiving yards in each of the last two seasons is also the biggest proponent of run blocking. But after amassing 1,053 receiving yards during the regular season, the tight end couldn't be happier after catching just four passes for 35 yards in the playoffs.  

Kittle wishes coach Kyle Shanahan would run the ball even more. His coach is very appreciative and realizes what effect it has on the rest of the offense.  

“I mean, he had more yards in the pass game as a tight end in the history of the NFL last year,” Shanahan said. “So, any time you have a guy like that who's one of the best players on your team who's always just talking about running the ball and playing the physicality in the game and giving everything you can, it helps you hold everyone else a lot more accountable, and rarely do you have to. 

“When people are watching guys like that do that type of stuff, when they watch guys like [cornerback Richard Sherman] play the run and things like that, it makes your job a lot easier. When your best guys are doing it, everyone else really doesn't have much of a choice.”

Because Kittle’s enthusiasm for the run game permeates throughs the offense, Shanahan has been able to make his schemes more elaborate. He has always involved fullback Kyle Juszczyk, but now the receivers are bigger parts of the run scheme as well. 

Veteran Emmanuel Sanders has mentioned that he enjoys being a “bully” while run blocking. He believes that Kittle sets the tone for what can be accomplished when everyone contributes to the ground game. 

“Kittle is one of the best tight ends in the league, but everybody wants to talk about his blocking as well,” Sanders said. “So, I think it's contagious around the building in terms of going out and doing your job. When you look at your best players and they're doing it, I feel like everybody else will hop on board as well. So, it's contagious.”

Kittle remains humble about his abilities permeating through the offense but will admit that Shanahan’s scheme has been able to grow over the years with everyone’s participation and effort. He describes the transformation with the same joy he shows on the field. 

“Our offense from my rookie year against [the Carolina Panthers in the] opening game is much different than what it is now,” Kittle said. “And, it's really fun too. Just being part of the evolution, how it's grown and how it's changed is really fun because you can look back, ‘Wow, man,’ that's what we were doing and now we're doing this stuff, and it was so much more fun. 

“Just the fact we basically install new plays every single week, we have a whole new playbook every single week, it makes football really fun. You get to learn every single week's techniques, how to block guys. The similarities always carry over, but the difference is what makes it really exciting.”

Sanders knows that Kittle’s efforts don’t just affect the offense. The tight end’s attitude is felt throughout the locker room. 

“I think it's a mindset,” Sanders said. “At the end of the day we've got a lot of guys who aren't 'me' guys, it's about let's get the job done and let's win. It's more about 'we' than 'me.' And I'm one of those guys as well. And I think everybody is a part of it.” 

[RELATED: How Shanahan, Lynch make 49ers CEO York's job easier]

Kittle doesn't need extra motivation to run block, but he might have some against the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 3 in Super Bowl LIV.

The University of Iowa product will line up opposite some former Hawkeyes teammates in Miami, and Kittle has revenge on his mind. 

“I'm looking forward to blocking the Iowa linebackers Ben Niemann and Anthony Hitchens [on the Chiefs],” Kittle said. “Hitch used to bully me in practice when I was on scout team at Iowa, and so I'm going to give it back to him a couple times.”

49ers' George Kittle gifts Super Bowl trip to fallen soldier's family

49ers' George Kittle gifts Super Bowl trip to fallen soldier's family

49ers tight end George Kittle stayed after an August practice and cheered on 50 men and women from nearby Travis Air Force Base, who were on hand to run through NFL combine drills as part of a partnership with financial-services company USAA.

With the 49ers clinching a spot in Super Bowl LIV, Kittle again is rewarding a military family, this time with the trip of a lifetime.

The family of former U.S. Army Sgt. Martin “Mick” LaMar will make the trip to Miami for the Super Bowl as Kittle’s guests.

Lamar, a Sacramento native, was shot and killed during a second tour of duty in Mosul, Iraq, on Jan. 15, 2011. LaMar’s wife, Josephine, and 16-year-old son Nicolas will be on hand in South Florida to witness the 49ers' seventh Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

Mick was an avid 49ers fan, and passed that down to his family, who met with Kittle on Friday.

[RELATED: How Shanahan, Lynch make 49ers CEO York's job easier]

"As I hit the field to play in the Super Bowl, I find comfort in the fact that 49ers fans Josie and Nicolas LaMar will be cheering our team on," Kittle said in a statement. "It's a special privilege to be able to team up with USAA and TAPS to award a trip to the Super Bowl to Sergeant LaMar's family in recognition of his military service and paying the ultimate sacrifice in service of our country."

Kittle and the 49ers will take the field for Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2, with kickoff scheduled for 3:30 p.m. PT.