In what felt like an enormous game in the 2021 season, the Chicago Bears found too many ways to lose and ultimately fell 33-22 to the San Francisco 49ers Sunday at Soldier Field. Here are my “first things” following the loss:
1. You’re not going to find a more back-breaking play for the Bears’ defense than the 83-yard tunnel screen to Deebo Samuel on 3rd-and-19. It didn’t help that the offense had just settled for a field goal to go up 16-9 instead of 20-9, but the defense was still poised to get off the field and put the ball back in Justin Fields’ hands, where the Bears had been controlling the game. At one point, they had a 15-minute edge in time of possession.
The defense struggled with slants and other short catch-and-runs all day and Samuel’s was the worst of the bunch. Very quickly, the game was tied, and soon after that, the 49ers took a 23-16 lead. Simply put, the defense didn’t do its job in the second half, allowing 24 points.
2. The Bears did not finish enough drives Sunday, but they did establish more of a rhythm, with five scoring drives that lasted at least nine plays. There were designed roll outs (who knew Justin Fields would be good in space?), play-action that directly played off successful run plays, and, yes, even a slant or two! Fields looked comfortable running the offense. The Bears just had too many negative plays that stalled long drives, resulting in field goals. Good offenses score touchdowns in those situations.
3. The Bears fail to do things that good teams do. One example: poised to get the ball out of halftime, they had a chance to double-dip on possessions before and after the half. The middle eight minutes (the last four minutes of the second quarter and first four minutes of the third quarter) can often swing games.
Sunday, the Bears drove down to the 49ers’ 16 yard-line before halftime, but settled for a field goal to go up 13-6 with 1:20 on the clock. The defense quickly allowed a 50-yard pass to Samuel though, which set up a field goal for the 49ers as the clock expired. After halftime, the Bears orchestrated a very promising 13-play drive, but stalled out at the 7-yard-line, resulting in another field goal. Thus, in a crucial sequence before-and-after halftime, they managed just a 6-3 edge in points.
Three plays later, the deflating 3rd-and-19 play to Samuel happened. Credit the 49ers for taking advantage of the Bears’ missed opportunity. Another example of the 49ers finding a way to win when the Bears found a way to lose.
4. Justin Fields’ 22-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-1 was simply insane. He made somewhere between five to seven 49ers defenders miss on the play. It looked like he was stopped dead in the backfield, but somehow spun out of the mess, reversed to the opposite side of the field and took it all the way home for a touchdown that should have tied the game. Credit left tackle Jason Peters for a devastating block on 49ers linebacker Fred Warner on the play too.
If nothing else, Sunday was at least a very positive day in Justin Fields’ development.
5. Unfortunately, the next play was a missed extra point from Cairo Santos. The Bears’ kicker has been lights out and still has a streak of 38 straight made field goals (the NFL record is 44), but that missed extra point was deflating enough that the fight song should not have been played after the miss. On the heels of Fields’ incredible touchdown run, the momentum inside Soldier Field felt like it swung right back towards the 49ers because they still had a 23-22 lead and the ball in the fourth quarter. They went on to score 10 unanswered points from there to seal the victory.