Woof. That was too close for comfort. A week after we all witnessed these Chicago Bears clinch the division and terminate the Green Bay Packers from the post-season, the Bears went on the road to face a 4-10 team in the San Francisco 49ers. Oh, and those 49ers only forced 5 turnovers on defense headed into the matchup. Sounds like an easy win, at least on paper, right?
Not so fast.
All the credit in the world goes to Kyle Shannahan and his 49ers for putting up an incredible fight through all 4 quarters. They couldn’t care less who they were playing on their home turf. At times, it seemed all but certain the Bears would be facing their 5th loss of the season, and eliminated from the chance of earning a 1st round bye.
Alas, Matt Nagy and his Bears did just enough to pull themselves out from an early hole, as he set the franchise record for wins (11) in their first year as head coach. George Halas had that record established all the way back in 1920. Talk about a historic season for Halas Hall.
This win would not have been possible without tremendous efforts from a quartet of individuals. On that note, here are my game balls for week sixteen.
QB Mitchell Trubisky
Throughout the majority of the 2018 season, Trubisky had struggled with consistency on the road.
In the four road games prior to this weekend’s contest, he averaged 210.5 yards per game while completing 66.33% of his passes and boasting an 87.3 passer rating. He also turned the ball over 5 times (3 ints and 2 fumbles lost) compared to 5 total touchdowns (4 passing and 1 rushing).
It was a different narrative against the 49ers.
He played his best road game of the season, statistically speaking, while delivering big plays in critical moments. In all, he threw for 246 yards and a touchdown while completing an eye-popping 25-of-29 (86.2%) of his pass attempts. That translated to a 113.5 passer rating. The fact he’s registered over a 110.0 passer rating in consecutive weeks is impressive enough. He’s now riding on a 7 game win streak while playing as the Bears’ starting QB.
As always, there’s room for growth in his performance. His backward pass to Tarik Cohen and his interception in the endzone — the latter overturned by a holding penalty against the 49ers secondary — placed the Bears in a real position to lose control. However, Trubisky would regroup, and played extremely efficient football for most of the game.
His best moments came in key 3rd down situations. Instead of crumbling under pressure and trying to run for the first down, he remained patient and looked downfield, which kept the offense on the field while eating up the clock. That is how you play as a QB who’s prepping for their first career playoff start.
DL Akiem Hicks
He only registered one tackle in this game. Nevertheless, he made the biggest plays on defense that don’t appear on most stat-sheets. And that’s fine with me.
In typical fashion, Hicks was the immovable object on the Bears’ D-Line all afternoon in Levi Stadium. He ate gaps consistently, blew up linemen who pulled in a traditional zone blocking scheme featured in any west coast offense, and harassed Nick Mullens throughout the game. Nobody got through Hicks at Santa Clara.
Perhaps his biggest accomplishment on Sunday was his ability to disrupt passes at the line of scrimmage. If he wasn’t going to get a hit on Mullens, he stuck his paws up and batted the ball. He swat 3 passes at the line of scrimmage.
It’s not always the players who fill the box score that earn the most praise. On some occasions, having a quiet day as a lineman translates to your best day on the field. The now Pro Bowl D-Lineman in Akiem Hicks knows this quite well.
Honorable Mentions: ILB Roquan Smith (58) and ILB Danny Trevathan (59)
Both Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan did their jobs well as most plays made on defense involved either one of these backers.
And both of them made huge plays: Smith had a sack that took the 49ers’ offense off the field to start the 2nd half, and Trevathan had a back breaking interception off the deflection from 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin. They didn’t allow too many plays past them, aside from Smith’s “welcome to the NFL” moment when he got trucked in the 2nd quarter. These two players combined for 16 solo tackles alone.
In all, Roquan Smith has 116 tackles for the season, and 5 sacks to go with 1 interception. Meanwhile, Danny Trevathan has 99 tackles with 2 sacks and 2 interceptions. That is exceptional production for any tandem in a base 3-4 front.
It would simply be unfair to not credit both of these ILBs for their total effort. Vic Fangio, a linebacker coach by trade, should be proud with how well his inside backers have performed from week one to week sixteen. Roquan in particular is developing into the next great inside linebacker for the Bears’ franchise.