This game had all the makings of another San Francisco beatdown for the Chicago Bears. Since 1985 they have not won in San Francisco, including multiple shutouts and mistake-filled games.
The Bears took the opening kickoff and quickly went three and out, gaining only one yard. Then the punt was blocked by Aaron Lynch. The 49ers took over at the Bears' eight yard line and three plays later scored a touchdown.
Every subsequent Bears drive until the final two minutes of the half ended in a punt. They looked like this, in order: 5 plays, 16 yards, punt; 8 plays, 24 yards, punt; 3 plays, -5 yards, punt; 3 plays -9 yards, punt; and 3 plays, -19 yards, punt.
Twitter was a wave of negativity. I don't even want to know what the game threads on here were like, and my wife looked at me and said "I don't even want to watch any more, this is painful."
The receivers looked very injured and many people were calling for them to be benched, including Cris Collinsworth on-air.
Following a four minute, 30 yard touchdown drive by the 49ers, the Bears put together a 2 minute, 9 second 80 yard touchdown drive to make it 17-7. The Bears suddenly had life.
In the second half it looked like a whole new team. These are the Bears' second half drives, minus the two kneel downs to kill the clock: 13 plays, 80 yards, touchdown; 1 play, 3 yards, touchdown; 4 plays, 42 yards touchdown.
Perhaps one of the big momentum shifts was the 49ers taking the second half opening kickoff and going on a 9-minute, 14-play, 84-yard drive, but only coming up with a field goal. It was the last time the 49ers scored. After that, their drives ended with two interceptions and a turnover on downs.
The game was sloppy with the Bears being penalized 10 times and the 49ers 16 times, and those were just the ones that were accepted. While the Bears had a couple of drives kept alive by defensive penalties, that is the 49ers' problem; I don't criticize Chicago for getting somewhat "lucky" in that regard. It works both ways: the Bears make mistakes and keep the 49ers alive too. Play cleanly and you get off the field.
The defense showed up to play, too. The 49ers began the game 4-for-4 on third down but finished 7-for-13. They forced four turnovers and were pressuring Colin Kaepernick, making him uncomfortable all night. Great stuff from a unit that is hopefully taking the right steps forward.
The whole team played a gritty, tough game, overcoming many adversarial elements and gutted out a win that will stick with them for a while. The coaches and players did a great job of not letting last week's late collapse get into their heads and deflate them when they were down 17-0.
Now, on to the grades:
No turnovers, four touchdowns and a 119.2 rating. Jay Cutler played as good of a second half as I can remember. He struggled mightily early, making both poor throws and having some uncharacteristic drops and calls go against him and his receivers. Cutler was 10-of-20 for 64 yards and one touchdown in the first half. He finished the second with 13-of-14 for 113 yards and three touchdowns. His final stat line was 23 of 34 (67.6 percent), for 176 yards and four touchdowns. There were some questionable decisions but I wasn't sure how much of it was just him making poor throws, or just making throws that he would complete if his WRs were 100 percent. Some of the deep throws to Alshon Jeffery looked like they would have been caught had Jeffery not been hobbled. Nevertheless, after last week this felt like a game that, when the Bears were down, you were kind of waiting for Cutler to implode and throw a couple of picks, but he took that huge hit to the chest and never looked back. A signature win for the Bears' play-caller.
Running backs: C-
This is tough because, to my eyes, the 49ers did all they could to slow down and take Matt Forte out of the game. There were not many great running lanes opened by the offensive line, either. Forte had a couple of drops (he caught five of his eight targets, though one of those was thrown at his feet on a broken screen). His long run was seven yards and he averaged a downright awful 1.8 yards per carry. He had only 12 runs, which broken down by quarter were: three in the first quarter, five designed in the second quarter with Cutler scrambling another three times, one in the third quarter, and three in the fourth quarter plus the two kneel downs. He did little in pass protection as he was a big part of the game plan, but the 49ers kept him bottled up. I felt like this was more of a case of the 49ers scheming him out, but I did see him make a couple bad decisions on picking a running lane and, if he's the guy the Bears needed to rely on, he should be able to break through to make some bigger plays.
Tight ends: B
The tight ends need to be applauded, they were going to be a big part of the game plan with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery limping and they came through. Matthew Mulligan did well in pass-protection for the most part and Dante Rosario seemed to hold his own as well. Their run blocking wasn't quite as up to snuff, but Martellus Bennett being a reliable target helped bail their grade out. Bennett caught 7 of his 8 targets, the only miss being the overturned call on the sideline which was nearly made. I can't say that it was a bad call but it was awfully close, I'm too biased to say for sure that the team got hosed.
Wide receivers: A-
This is tough because it was one of the grittiest and toughest performances I've seen by a position group. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery were both clearly laboring. making it difficult to get in and out of their breaks, but they kept pushing and finally started making some big plays. However, they weren't as strong as they usually are in the run game and they had some big drops in the first half but, in the end, three touchdowns by Marshall made up for it. Even when he's hobbled, he's nearly impossible to cover. Incredible performance.
Offensive line: B+
They were great in pass-pro, opening up a pocket for Cutler to step up into and allowing only one sack, but they were out-manned and mauled too often in the run game. Michael Ola gave up the lone sack, but that was just a case of getting beat one-on-one with a Pro-Bowl and All-Pro player in Justin Smith. Of course, Lester will bring you all the details on that later this week in Sackwatch. Brian de la Puente had a good second half, but snapped it when Cutler wasn't ready and the team was lucky to get it back. Jordan Mills had a false start penalty. It took until the second half for the screen game to get going consistently, but de la Puente and Ola did well in that in the second half.
Overall offensive grade: B+
They started slow and had some mistakes and miscues, but were able to overcome it, not turn the ball over, and put points on the board. Having a short field a couple of times likely helped, but the back-to-back 80 yard drives and the go-ahead touchdown which came on a 42-yard drive were the big difference makers. A solid game from the team's strongest unit.
Defensive line: B
The much-maligned group bounced back from a bad week one showing to lead the defense. Willie Young made a strong case for defensive MVP with his two clutch sacks. Stephen Paea added a sack as well. Young finished the game four tackles and two sacks; Jeremiah Ratliff added two tackles and had several pressures before he was injured; Jared Allen played the run quite well, notching three tackles but he did get beat a couple of times too. Ego Ferguson added a tackle as well. The group was disruptive, keeping the 49ers off balance and held the run in check for the most part. I know 4 yards per carry and 129 total rush yards is hardly "in check" but for this unit it's an improvement, and the longest run allowed was 19 yards. Kaepernick and Frank Gore are going to get yards, it's just about not letting them break huge plays and for the most part the Bears did that, especially when they needed to.
After basically a no-show in week one, the linebackers shocked me with a great bounce-back performance. Shea McClellin notched a sack and forced Kaepernick to make poor throws at least twice by being in his face. D.J. Williams was much more visible, despite only logging one tackle in the box score. Lance Briggs was much more active, tallying six tackles and appearing very disruptive. I believe he and McClellin had some tackles-for-loss but the ESPN box score doesn't list any for the team. Bostic logged three solo tackles, four in total. There were still a couple of glaring moments, but it was much, much better. Their biggest errors came in coverage, getting beat by tight ends a few times, giving up 24 yards after the catch to the San Francisco TEs. Much improved, but still a lot of room to grow.
It was a great effort by this group. The CBs pestered the 49ers WRs all night and never let themselves really get beat. While there were some moments - most notably Tim Jennings playing off on the late fourth down conversion to Michael Crabtree and Kyle Fuller getting beat on a third and 11 by Stevie Johnson - the CBs, by my count, gave up roughly 28 yards after the catch, which isn't too bad. They were sound in their technique and didn't allow any huge pass plays. Fuller added two pass deflections to go with his first two career interceptions which were just great, and he tied for the team lead with seven tackles. He was getting picked on after Charles Tillman left the game and made Kaepernick pay. Tillman had a pass deflection and almost had a pick. I graded Brock Vereen as a CB since he came in after Tillman's injury and played nickel. He was solid but unspectacular and logged two tackles.
Much, much better game from the safeties, who logged the defense's first interception when Chris Conte flew in like a hawk to snatch the ball out of the air. He added a pass deflection before leaving with a shoulder injury. Ryan Mundy led the team in tackles, which isn't ideal, but he was playing up against the run a lot and the safeties didn't let any plays get behind them. They played sound and made good tackles. Mundy is looking like a much better signing at this point; he plays the run very well. He cleaned up a lot of plays when the LBs or CBs missed a tackle.
Overall defensive grade: B
A very solid effort from the weaker unit on the team. Maybe I'm grading too tough but, while there weren't any glaring errors, they did get pushed around in the run game too much; they did give up a lot of yards but they forced turnovers and stopped the 49ers offense when it came down to it. The 49ers were 2-for-5 in the red zone. If this unit grows from here it will be very promising. Keep forcing the turnovers and, if they can continue to allow only 20-23 points per game, the offense should be able to win a lot of games for this team.
Special teams grade: D+
Maybe we just need to get used to the fact that the current regime does not invest the resources into the third phase that the old one did, but the special teams unit continues to flounder. Shaun Draughn was flagged and then gave up the punt block. The unit was flagged three times on one play. The Bears had only one punt return, for one yard, and Senorise Perry continues to look lost on KR, returning only one for 21 yards. Other than the block, which was out of his control, Pat O'Donnell had a nice game punting, averaging 47 yards and getting the Bears out of trouble fairly well. Robbie Gould nailed all his extra points.
Coaching grade: B
It was a very good game from the standpoint that Marc Trestman and his staff was able to make incredible halftime adjustments en route to a 28-3 outscoring in the second half. The team didn't pack it in on him and was able to shake off the injuries, overcome the adverse conditions, and rally. That said, the team continues to get penalized more than I would expect from a coach who preaches accountability and efficiency. His team should be more disciplined; although some of the flags were somewhat fluky (illegal touching), there are still too many. Finally, play-calling - which has been called into question at times - was again somewhat strange. The short passing game was there (as evidenced by Cutler's 5.2 yards per attempt average) and he only took downfield shots on early downs, which was good with two gimpy receivers. However, the run/pass ratio was still somewhat out of whack (34 pass plays, 12 runs, plus three Cutler scrambles so it was more like 37 passes). But the team played well in the second half and were mistake free with the football.
This team earned this win and played as a whole football team: the offense helped the defense, the defense helped the offense, both units overcame adversity and put history to bed in avoiding a 0-2 hole. A fantastic game for the Chicago Bears.
How would you grade their performance?