San Francisco 49ers (1-11) struggle offensively, fall 6-26 to Chicago Bears (3-9)
- Net Passing Yards – Chicago: 184, San Francisco: 6
- Bears score 24+ for 1st time this season
- Colin Kaepernick: 1/5, 5 Yards, Nick Kwiatkoski: 9 Solo Tackles, 2 TFL, 2PDEF
From an objective standpoint, there wasn’t much in this game. The two worst NFC records square off on a miserable December Sunday while numerous other games with playoff implications happen elsewhere. Chicago was favored at home by a point and after Colin Kaepernick’s good performance last week in Miami, I thought that was actually a bit generous for the Bears. Matt Barkley played well in his first NFL start last weekend but his receivers dropped too many passes to translate his solid performance to the stat sheet. The blue radar map signaled snow for the northern games with no signs of clearing up. The weather would continue throughout the game to the dismay of the San Francisco 49ers, who practiced this week in sunny Florida. For Chicago, DE Mitch Unrein and NT Eddie Goldman returned to the starting lineup. John Timu and rookie Nick Kwiatkoski paired at inside linebacker in their first NFL starts and rookie S DeAndre Houston-Carson replaced Deon Bush as a starter.
San Francisco came out determined to brave the storm in the first half. Kaepernick struggled to throw the ball, but Chip Kelly utilized him in the read option frequently. Kap and Carlos Hyde weren’t able to break out for big chunks of yards, but they were able to win the field position battle and get two field goals on the board. Initially, it looked like special teams would be the x-factor for a 49ers victory. Neither offense could sustain a drive in the weather, so kickoffs and punts would be the best opportunity for playmakers to get out and run. Surprisingly, in cold and wet conditions, neither kicker missed a place kick in the game. A blocked punt and a fumble recovery on the next kick-off gave the edge to the 49ers until the last two minutes of the 2nd quarter.
Matt Barkley exhibited a quality that is highly valued in the NFC North. Through both wind and wet snow, he placed bullet passes and touch passes alike right where they needed to be. This was evident last week and he showed a consistency that benefitted this week from more sure-handed receiving. Josh Bellamy had his share of drops, but more often than not, he and Cam Meredith sacrificed yards after the catch to secure the football. Barkley was 0-3 in his first three drives, but 11-15 from then on including two dropped passes and a throwaway.
Positive Takeaways from 49ers @ Bears
Life is all about perspective. It’d be easy to say that the Bears success on defense was a full credit to those players and DC Vic Fangio and his staff. Chicago allowed just four yards in the air to Colin Kaepernick and only 35 yards on 10 attempts to his replacement Blaine Gabbert. The rush defense struggled at times, allowing Carlos Hyde and Shaun Draughn to run for a combined 112 yards on 25 carries. The key to preventing the 4th ranked 49er ground attack from putting points on the board was the negative plays. Chicago sacked the 49ers QB 6 times as a part of 8 tackles for a loss. The entire front seven did a spectacular job of containing Chip Kelly’s read option and collapsing the pocket. However, San Francisco helped the effort as well, totaling more penalties (11) than any other opponent Chicago has faced this season. The SF offensive line was awful as a unit, rarely giving the receivers enough time to get the young Chicago DBs off balance.
Some alternate colors on the field for #SFvsCHI, courtesy of @TheSamAcho, @JHowardx24, @p_scales & Cre'Von LeBlanc. #MyCauseMyCleats pic.twitter.com/44fkJOPiml
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) December 4, 2016
* Some Bears players hoped to wear some custom kicks this week but were forced to switch to longer blades once the weather affected the turf.
Offensively, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains must be happy. Jordan Howard couldn’t keep his uniform clean, carrying the ball 32 times. The paint stains from the end zone didn’t seem to bother him too much, as he returned to it twice in the 3rd quarter after scoring late in the 2nd. He became the first rookie to score three touchdowns for Chicago since Matt Forte and he is also within reach of Forte’s record for rookie rushing yards in a season. The patchwork offensive line was great, giving Josh Bellamy and Cam Meredith time to make double-moves and find open space. Barkley’s ball placement wasn’t as challenged as it was last week since most of his targets found two or three yards of space.
Negative Takeaways from 49ers @ Bears
Special teams hoarded most of the bad news in the 20-point victory. Pat O’Donnell was great on the road against the New York Giants but the weather did give his punt unit some trouble this week. Of his six punts, two flew into the end zone and one was blocked and nearly returned for a touchdown. His other three were mostly good, so it is probably an exaggeration to say he had a bad day, but he could have been better. Following the blocked punt, San Francisco kicked a field goal and then forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. These miscues on special teams didn’t cause major problems, but they would have against one of their NFC North rivals.
John Fox hasn’t said it in front of a microphone but he has replaced his 2016 calendar with next year’s version. Chicago is preparing to add more young talent in April but in the meantime, Fox wants to get some young guys in on NFL snaps.
LG Josh Sitton was a game-time decision on the injury report and he made way for Eric Kush on the offensive line. Sitton entered the game as a right guard when Cody Whitehair left the game, though. Whitehair returned a bit later. In the secondary, Cre’Von LeBlanc, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Deon Bush, Harold Jones-Quartey, and Bryce Callahan played on most snaps in the frigid conditions. They held their footing long enough to let their pass rush do the talking. Rookie Nick Kwiatkoski out of West Virginia had a fantastic day as a replacement for Jerrell Freeman. John Timu was charged with covering the running back in Danny Trevathan’s absence and was very successful. These players took advantage of the opportunity to play and show that they are willing to fight for a spot on the roster next season.
What’s Next for Chicago?
An excellent performance from the Chicago defensive line will give Matthew Stafford nightmares this week. Stafford has been on fire lately, winning four straight including Sunday’s over the Saints. The former Georgia standout threw for 341 yards and 2 TDs with a passer rating of 111.3. Some of Chicago’s injured players, such as Eddie Goldman, Mitch Unrein, Leonard Floyd, and Josh Sitton have returned to try to finish out the season strong. With the impressive games by Cam Meredith and Josh Bellamy, Chicago decided not to bring Kevin White back this season, and instead gave Western Michigan rookie Daniel Braverman a chance to earn a new contract. From the IR, the Bears will bring back CB Kyle Fuller who should be ready to go by next week. Chicago will be underdogs for the rest of the season, so the coaches will use these games to give some young talent a chance to play at the highest level.