CHICAG0 – Just when the 49ers’ offense started to look as if it was warming up in Florida, things got cold in a hurry.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers’ passing game put together one of the most anemic showings in 49ers franchise history on Sunday in a 26-6 loss to the Chicago Bears on a snowy day at Soldier Field.
Kaepernick completed just one of five pass attempts for 4 yards. He was also sacked five times for minus-25 yards to give the 49ers minus-21 net yards passing in his three quarters of action.
With more than 12 minutes remaining and the 49ers trailing by 18 points, coach Chip Kelly benched Kaepernick and inserted Blaine Gabbert.
On Gabbert’s first play, he completed an 18-yard pass to receiver Jeremy Kerley. Gabbert, who started the 49ers first five games of the season, ended up with four completions in 10 attempts for 35 yards.
The 49ers entered the game with their franchise-worst game in passing at minus-10 yards, when Bob Waters and Lamar McHan combined for 63 yards passing against the Detroit Lions in 1963. The 49ers gave up 73 yards in sacks to account for the negative yardage.
The 49ers (1-11) extended their franchise-worst losing streak to 11 games against a Bears team that improves to 3-9 despite 15 players being on injured reserve. That list does not include quarterback Jay Cutler, who remains on the roster despite a season-ending shoulder injury.
The 49ers’ utter futility in the passing game was reminiscent of a 2005 trip the 49ers made to Soldier Field. Unlike Sunday, that game was howling wind that featured gusts up to 47 mph. On that day, Cody Pickett completed just one of his 13 pass attempts for 28 yards.
Neither Kaepernick nor Bears quarterback Matt Barkley completed a pass in the first quarter. Barkley was 0 for 2, while Kaepernick was 0 for 1. Kaepernick was also sacked two times for minus-18 yards.
It was the first NFL game since a New York Jets-New England game in 1988 that did not have a completed pass in the first quarter, according to Elias Sports.
The 49ers concluded the first quarter with 11 consecutive run plays. When Kaepernick finally completed a pass – a shovel pass to Shaun Draughn for 15 yards – it was nullified by right guard Joshua Garnett’s holding penalty. He later found tight end Vance McDonald on a 4-yard pass.
The fact that both teams did not even try to throw was a bit perplexing consider there was absolutely no wind and the snow did not pick up until halftime.
Kaepernick threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns in the 49ers’ 31-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins last week. The team practiced in mid-80s temperatures in Orlando, Fla., before traveling north to near freezing conditions in Chicago.
The Bears finally began to open up their offense after the 49ers took a 6-0 lead late in the first half. Barkley completed three of four attempts for 64 yards and benefitted from a questionable pass-interference penalty on Tramaine Brock in the end zone.
Bears rookie running back Jordan Howard punched it in from 1-yard out with 35 seconds remaining in the half to give Chicago a 7-6 lead after 30 minutes.
While the 49ers continued to stumble around, the Bears figured out that the conditions did not prevent them from incorporating the pass into their offense. Chicago scored touchdowns on their first two possessions of the second half. They capped drives of 75 and 59 yards with Howard’s touchdown runs of 2 and 5 yards to take a 21-6 lead.
After his rough start, Barkley ended up having a fair amount of success against the 49ers. He ended up completing 11 passes for 192 yards. Barkley, who spent his first two NFL seasons as a reserve on Kelly’s team with the Philadelphia Eagles, made his second career start.
Rookie Rashard Robinson celebrated Dontae Johnson’s blocked field-goal return for a touchdown with a snow angel (after Johnson did one first). There was only one problem: Johnson did not score a touchdown.
Johnson picked up the ball after Shaun Draughn broke through to block Pat O’Donnell’s punt. Johnson returned the ball 25 yards but was pushed out at the 4-yard line. Robinson thought Johnson scored and celebrated.
Robinson’s 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct pushed the 49ers’ offense back to the 19-yard line. After going nowhere in three plays, kicker Phil Dawson booted a 31-yard field goal to give the 49ers a 3-0 lead in the middle of the second quarter.
This ‘n’ that
--The 49ers’ field goals in the first half were set up by special teams. After Draughn’s blocked punt and Johnson’s return, it was Jimmie Ward who stepped up with a big play. Ward stripped Chicago kickoff return man Deonte Thompson and recovered at the Bears’ 37.
Dawson, who earlier hit a 31-yard field goal, made a 28-yard kick to give the 49ers a short-lived 6-0 lead with 1:56 remaining in the first half.
--Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch misseed his fifth consecutive game with a high-ankle sprain. Lynch has appeared in just three games this season. He served a four-game suspension to begin the season for violating the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse. He was injured late in the 49ers’ Oct. 23 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The next week was the 49ers’ bye week. Eli Harold will start in place of Lynch for the ninth time this season.
--Wide receiver Quinton Patton was cleared to return to action after sustaining a concussion last week. The 49ers had six wide receivers active for the game: Patton, Torrey Smith, Jeremy Kerley, Rod Streater, Aaron Burbridge, and Chris Harper.