CHICAGO – NaVorro Bowman's message was received loud and clear.
The San Francisco 49ers captain told his defensive teammates on Saturday that the group needed to focus on fulfilling expectations.
The 49ers made Bowman proud less than 24 hours later in a thrilling, 26-20 overtime road victory over the Chicago Bears.
Bowman encouraged his teammates to ignore their record, which included an 0-5 mark on the road this season. For San Francisco, the emphasis needed to be about turning the tide on a frustrating season.
"It was our job to get it right as quick as possible, and I just explained to them that it's a process," Bowman said after the 49ers improved to 4-8 on the year. "We built this process up to this point. We played great football, but we kept falling short.
"Today was a chance for us to not go out here and act like we threw in the towel, but let this affect the years to come and for the young guys to know, 'This is the NFL. You're going to lose, and you're going to win, but you have to continue to play all 16 games.' That's really what's going on."
Bowman led the way in the seesaw battle, posting a game-high 14 tackles.
One of the linebacker's best plays won'ts be shown on the stat sheet. Bowman's studying paid off on the team's first defensive touchdown of the season.
Bowman told reporters that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler tended to let the play clock wind down so he could read the opposing defense for as long as possible.
Cutler did just that on a 2nd-and-9 on Chicago's third possession of the game. Bowman observed the veteran signal-caller change plays at the line of scrimmage, which led Bowman to believe a screen pass was coming.
"I just had to communicate that to all 11 guys, and it was the right call," Bowman said.
As soon as Cutler threw a pass to his favorite target, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, Bowman's intellect paid off. Jimmie Ward undercut the route, intercepted the pass, and ran it back 29 yards to score his first career touchdown on his first career interception. Ward's score, which was followed by a blocked extra point attempt, tied the game at 6 apiece.
Bowman later shared that he received praise from the Bears quarterback for his line-of-scrimmage diagnosis.
"When we came back on the field, Jay said, 'You got me.'"
Bowman had to temporarily leave the field in the second quarter. He was taken to the locker room and evaluated for a possible concussion when Quinton Dial's shin collided with the top of Bowman's head.
Bowman returned to the field on the second defensive snap of the third quarter and continued to lead his team by example.
With Bowman on the field, the 49ers battled back to tie the game two more times.
Blaine Gabbert's career-high, 44-yard touchdown run evened the game at 20 with 1:42 left in regulation. The longest run from scrimmage by the 49ers this season, albeit from an unlikely source, received tons of recognition from Gabbert's teammates.
"I've seen Blaine run," Bowman said. "He's got a little savviness to him, and we love it as his teammates. I think it's showing out there the way the offense is really playing for him. It was good to see him run down that field."
Bowman also enjoyed watching Gabbert produce a simpler scoring drive in overtime. After the teams swapped punts to open the period, Gabbert launched a 71-yard touchdown to Torrey Smith to end the game and give San Francisco a walk-off win.
San Francisco's team-wide performance embodied Bowman's words before the game.
"I think today showed what we've been trying to get to, to all the players, just keep fighting no matter what happens in the game and let that decide who wins the game," Bowman said. "If you let the adversity affect your play, we wouldn't have had a shot like we did today."
Bowman acknowledged that players taking ownership of individual roles contributed heavily to the defense's overall success against Chicago. Cutler threw for 202 yards and posted a 64.2 quarterback rating. The Bears were also held to a three-and-out on their only overtime series.
"It's what you have to do as a football team in the NFL," Bowman said. "No matter what they're doing, we have to do our job.
"It sounds so cliché when you say, 'Do your job.' But really when you go back and look on the film, some of the things that made us lose some of those games was guys were trying to do too much.
"I think we're starting to get the idea of what really makes a good football team and that's guys just doing their jobs."
All of the preparation paid off on Sunday.
Bowman remarked, "The guys are still putting in the same hours all week and it showed that we're not giving up."
And with that professional mindset, Bowman's most telling comment was on how the 49ers can build on their first road victory of the year.
"I really see that we can have something special here," he said. "Maybe it didn't come as fast as we wanted, but we definitely can see the process and it's looking good for us."