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Bears vs Niners: Notes, Scribbles, and Things Jotted Down

In a tight, sloppy, hard-fought game, the Niners made more big plays than the Bears, and it cost them. We're going over our notes from yesterday's loss to the Niners.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

There's any number of words that you can use to talk about yesterday's disappointment of a game, but none describe it quite as well as "letdown."

The Bears needed another NFC win to give themselves a shot at negating their rough conference record. What better way than at home, against a team without a road win all season, going through a seemingly immeasurable amount of turmoil throughout the year, going in with a backup quarterback that flunked out of the league once and an injured list that could populate a 53-man roster in and of itself?

Of course, you would think a team that had two wins in the last six seasons against Green Bay and none of those on the turf of Lambeau Field would know a little something about not underestimating any amount of odds until the clock is at 0:00.

The Bears lost a game to a team that was being dominated for a large, large part of the game. They lost because on any number of occasions, they could have executed just a little better, converted one more play, made the most of one more opportunity, and the game would be over in regulation with a Bears win.

Instead, when it mattered, the Niners struck hard, converted a last-gasp opportunity to tie the game on a broken play, held their breath as Robbie Gould's second field goal miss of the day sailed wide, then Blaine Gabbert found Torrey Smith streaking down the sideline for a free and easy 71-yard touchdown, and everybody went home knowing the Bears let one slip away.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves, because the Bears' opportunities started fast. The defense forced three straight three and outs against the Niners, negative-five yards, but with excellent field position, including a nifty trick punt return that would have been a touchdown if not for a holding penalty, the best the Bears could manage in two drives was two field goals. When the Bears next took possession, Jimmie Ward crashed down hard on a wide receiver screen, picked it off and ran it all the way back.

Green Bay had a few attempts at picking off those screens, as well. There were some Twitter theories floating around that the Bears were telegraphing their receiver screens through formation and alignment reads, and I believe it, plus the screen went to the opposite side of the rush, which seems to be a common thing. If it was a pick predicated off predictability, Adam Gase needs to switch up his calls, formations or patterns a bit. With the notable exception of the Unrein Package (that movie comes out pretty soon, by the way...).

The Bears promptly followed up with a touchdown for the Navy and Orange, keyed up by a deep strike to Jeffery for 31 yards, a couple big Matt Forte carries, and the finisher, a fantastic second-effort run by Forte that we've rarely seen out of him.

Unfortunately, the Niners were determined to keep the game tied, and suddenly the Bears had their one first-half drive where they ignore everything they knew about defense. The Niners mixed up a bunch of short passes, runs to one-time former Bear Shaun Draughn (in case you didn't hear on the broadcast), and finished with a third down toss to a wide open Anquan Boldin to the 1 and a dive by Draughn for the score.

From that point until the Bears touchdown, I'll cover that block by stating the following: Punt, punt, punt, end of half, missed Robbie Gould field goal number one, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, touchdown.

Of course, Alshon Jeffery had a third down catch reversed into an incompletion as the ball was coming out before his knee hit the ground, yet another grey area call of a catch/no-catch in a season full of grey area calls of catches/no-catches. However, another punishing number about that final set of punts: over the last five punts, the two teams combined for 17 plays and negative-five yards. Yes, the third quarter and most of the fourth were pretty much a slog to get through.

But the Bears finally broke through with about four minutes left in the game. Matt Forte was sprung for 15 yards; on third and two later in the drive Cutler hooked up with Alshon Jeffery for 30 yards. The next play, Cutler rolled out and hit Marc Mariani, who turned upfield for 26 yards; the immediate next play, the Bears brought out the Unrein Package with Ka'Deem Carey, and the Bears pounded in a touchdown to go up 20-13.

Side note, you would think having your helmet ripped off during a tackle attempt would have resulted in a flag, or that your starting quarterback getting bodyslammed back-and-neck first into the turf would result in a flag as well, but they didn't.

All good, right? Wrong.

The Bears forgot that Gabbert, while not a very good downfield quarterback, is at least mobile, and has a little ability to use his feet. Three times on this drive, he ran for 9 yards, then 7, then was left completely alone to run down the middle of the field for 44 yards and a game-tying touchdown.

A minute and 42 seconds is still more than enough time to get in range, right? When your new kick returner runs it back 71 yards, you bet, and at that point it's academic, right?

Nope. Gould missed the second of the day, and well, I ran through the rest up top, so you already know how it went.

  • I really didn't want to know this, but I just had to look at it, and the punters combined for 15 punts for 690 yards; Bradley Pinion alone went 9 for 433, a 48.1 average. Yeah, it was that kind of day.
  • So right away, let's list off some things. Two missed field goals, a long stretch of offensive ineptitude during which the defense was balling out, two blown plays on defense for touchdowns, a pick six, a holding penalty on what would have been a punt return touchdown, eight penalties for 72 yards, a couple of which knocked the Bears' offense out of converting third and long. 
    Think really long and hard about that list, then keep in mind how the Bears were so close to winning the game. The San Francisco 49ers, right now, are a terrible, terrible team. The Bears, for a game, proved to be worse.
  • The Bears picked up four sacks on the game, which is some great output, but against a quarterback who admittedly is a threat to run, the Bears forgot to be mindful of those situations where Gabbert would be up to run, and especially late in the game, that failure to contain bit them. However, on the sacks, Willie Young looked great blitzing and Eddie Goldman showed great flashes of why the Bears are excited about him. Two sacks and two tackles for loss.
  • The disappointing thing overall about the Bears defense is that they had largely graduated to the level of "do what's expected of you against a bad offense," and for most of the game, they were that. But two blown coverages can create the margin between a win and a loss, especially when the offense doesn't quite show up.
  • What all this should underscore is how much of a team loss the Bears had to have to lose to the Niners.
  • Jay Cutler wasn't having a great game before he got slammed down to the turf, and while he rallied back on the next drive for a touchdown, he didn't quite look there on some of his throws. His deep accuracy was a bit iffy - Josh Bellamy had a throw knocked away from him and he missed Jeffery deep on a third down attempt - but after he was slammed down, it immediately looked like a concussion. If he's okay, he's okay, but it sure seemed like we were about to see David Fales' first NFL snaps.
  • Alshon Jeffery had 12 targets, converted for four catches and 85 yards. The rest of the Bears' targets had 14 catches on 19 targets. In case you're wondering, that ties Jeffery and Bennett for the team lead in targets with 80; Bennett now has 53 catches versus Jeffery's 47, in five more games played than Jeffery. I get forcing Jeffery the ball when he's the lone guy that can even get sort of open, but it'd really be nice if somebody else could step up more than once in a while. Marc Mariani caught both short tosses to him; Josh Bellamy snared one of the four targets thrown his way for 16 yards. Bennett was a non-factor, as was Zach Miller.
  • When you control the ball for over thirty-seven minutes, the rest of your offensive numbers shouldn't matter, you should win the game going away. When you nearly rush for more first downs than your opponent picked up in total, likewise. But they didn't. In tight games, big plays make the difference, and the Niners made big plays - a pick six, two big play touchdowns - and the Bears didn't, two missed field goals, and a lack of big stops in crunch time.

I think that'll wrap this game up, and I'll go back to something I said in a bullet - the Bears by themselves are not an awful, bottom-rung team. But the Niners are a terrible team, and for a game, the Bears were worse. It showed the Bears, right now, are not ready for a playoff push, and at 5-7, likely won't be pushing for the playoffs any further.

Next up, the Washington Redskins, and hopefully the Bears put up a better, more disciplined, finer tuned showing than whatever that was. What are your thoughts from yesterday's game?