By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The Chicago Bears are now within one week of wrapping up a great regular season, but in their latest contest they got another taste of the struggle with a narrow 14-9 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Away from home this season the Bears haven’t been the same team that reeled off a dominant 7-1 record at Soldier Field. Knowing that they will likely have to win at least once on the road in the playoffs in order to make it to the Super Bowl, this otherwise unimportant game against a 4-win team the week after clinching the division became much more of a test than expected.
After the game it was clear that the Bears still have plenty of work to do to maintain consistency on the road, but it was meaningful that they kept control of this game and didn’t allow it to be a disappointing and deflating late-season loss. San Francisco didn’t make things easy, they played with a real sense of urgency and helped formulate a hard fought battle for the Bears but it was a game marred by sloppiness and mistakes, without them the Bears could have won this game in a wash.
With the win gave the Bears secure a lock on the No. 3 seed in the NFC, they can’t finish any worst than that, and they still have an outside shot of the No. 2 seed, interestingly enough if the Rams were to lose to these same Niners this coming Sunday.
Overall, the Bears did what they needed to do against a willing spoiler and improved to 11-4 in coach Matt Nagy’s inaugural season, a historical feat for the franchise. Here are three takeaways from the Bears’ latest road win.
On defense, the Bears on defense had themselves a good day, not allowing one touchdown to the 49ers and nothing close too it despite them coming out swinging trying to stand up to the Bears dominant defense.
The only thing the Niners did to impress against the Bears attack was stemming the rush of the front seven, at least in the first half. In the second, SF quarterback Nick Mullens was under more duress for the most part though the Bears only scored one sack in the game off a nice blitz from inside linebacker Roquan Smith.
Mullens faced a lot of pressure on his grill Sunday afternoon but he exhibited some of the skill in eluding pressure and getting rid of the ball that has allowed him to secure the starting quarterback job after the team suffered through the loss of prohibitive franchise QB Jimmy Garoppolo. The Bears also arguably gave up more yards than expected, but the defense bent while never breaking and didn’t allow the Niners to convert any of three red zone attempts they had.
Shorthanded without injured safety Eddie Jackson, the Bears got a good performance from safety Deon Bush and overall the Bears defense was called upon to make huge plays in the fourth quarter to which they answered the call and ultimately sealed the victory. It started when inside linebacker Danny Trevathan intercepted Mullens with just under eight minutes left in the game. The Niners were in Bears territory and down only five points at the time.
The Bears offense had their moments in the game and looked like they would take that interception to win it on a well executed five-minute drive but it only set up the game’s most frustrating moment . Wide receiver Allen Robinson caught a seemingly game-clinching third down pass but allowed the ball to get punched away from him and recovered by San Francisco, giving the Niners life. The Bears defense stood up and held the Niners to a turnover on downs, which finally secured the Bears win.
It wasn’t the best performance by the defense but they did an excellent job fighting all day and making the plays the team needed to win. The defense is in a really good spot right now, hopefully they can stay healthy in this last game of the regular season and not suffer any setbacks.
Its possible the Bears may have the best defensive unit in football, they will be the foundation to any playoff success.
On offense, Chicago was somewhat of a mixed bag. Its hard to say they were bad because nothing was done to completely sink the team, plus there were definite bright spots including good yardage gained from scrimmage and dominating control of the clock, what remained was still some inconsistency in play-calling and sloppiness in finishing plays.
Against a 49ers team who just about never gets takeaways (their five in total coming into the game has them in place for a modern record in futility), the Bears fumbled twice, stalling the effort in putting away San Francisco to the point that it never ended up happening.
First Mitchell Trubisky gave the Niners a fumble on a bad decision to throw a backwards pass. It was a familiar sight — Trubisky doing too much instead of living to play another down.
Trubisky also made a horrible decision in the red zone after he made a great escape from the pocket but threw it right to a defender. He was bailed out with a defensive penalty that nullified the interception, one of several mistakes that were fortunately negated due to penalty or a downed play.
A couple plays after the would-be pick the Bears ended up scoring when receiver Anthony Miller caught a nice pass after running a crisp comeback route in the end zone. Robinson being victimized in the fourth by a punch that would have made Peanut proud had it not come against his beloved Bears made for the other Bears turnover with under two minutes in the game and no timeouts left for the 49ers.
Fortunately, Trubisky was pretty good overall and outside of a couple questionable decisions did nothing to hurt his team’s effort, he was deadly efficient (25 of 29) and made some big conversions while throwing the ball accurately downfield and leading the entire squad with conviction again.
Beyond his fumble, the Bears got team-high contributions from Robinson (6 rec., 85 yards) and involved the entire receiving corps throughout the game. The Bears allowed the run to make them balanced as they rushed for 90 yards on 28 carries overall compared to the 29 throws.
The only thing really lacking from the offense was consistent execution. The Bears should have put up more than 14 points and had they given this effort against a playoff team, they probably wouldn’t have gotten a victory. Winning on the road is a learned experience, hopefully the Bears learned some valuable lessons to use in their next game and in the playoffs.
The Ugly Ish
It was full spectrum kind of day for the Bears — we’ve already outlined both the good stuff to get excited about and the not so good stuff that needs cleaning up. What’s likely to be most remembered is the one ugly incident, a brawl late in the game that saw two Bears get ejected from the game.
Sparking the incident was the end of a play extending to the Chicago sidelines when safety Marcell Harris put a late hit on Trubisky when he had clearly given himself up with a slide. As Trubisky got up he got in the face of Harris after the illegal play with the rest of his teammates right there at his back. It was mostly an exchange of words with some shoving and people from both sides trying to break things up. Eventually Bears wide receivers Joshua Bellamy and Miller got into the middle of the scuffle with opposing cornerback Richard Sherman.
It looked as if Bellamy threw a punch, causing Sherman to respond which caused Miller to get Bellamy’s back. All three players were ejected and thankfully no one got hurt beyond that. This was an ugly moment and a teaching moment for Nagy to use on his team.
It is great that Bellamy and Miller stood up for their quarterback on a dirty hit. The problem is you can never throw punches and get into fights, it’s just not worth the potential fallout. Imagine if this was a playoff game and you suddenly lose one of your best receivers and a special teams standout during a one-possession affair.
As a team, the Bears have to be smart moving forward and stay composed in these moments. Stand up for teammates whenever needed but prioritize both your and your teammate’s needs by not doing anything stupid enough to get thrown out of the game.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR