Monday, September 15, 2014

Bears Get You

For the better part of 3 quarters on Sunday night, the 49ers appeared primed to open up Levi's Stadium the same way they closed out Candlestick Park: With a rousing victory in front of a National, Prime Time audience. But in a rather stunning collapse, Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the team unraveled in a rather unsettling sequence of turnovers and missed opportunities, allowing the Chicago Bears to slip back into the game, ultimately take the lead and end up stealing a 28-20 victory.

From the point Phil Dawson kicked a Field Goal that capped off a 14 play, 9+ minute drive that started out the second half, the Bears outscored the 49ers 21-0, capitalizing on a pair of bad interceptions thrown by Kaepernick and riding the wave of Jay Cutler's passing and Brandon Marshall's repeated clutch catches to overcome what was, at an earlier point in the game, a 17-0 San Francisco lead.

The game couldn't have started much better for the 49ers. After forcing a 3-and-out from the Bears on their first drive of the game, Aaron Lynch shot across the left side and blocked the Bears punt, setting up the 49ers in prime field position at the Bears 7-yard line to begin their night on offense. Quickly, they made it into the End Zone, with Colin Kaepernick hitting Michael Crabtree on a fade route for his first Touchdown reception of the season.

The next six Bears possessions similarly did not accomplish much. Justin Smith chipped in with a sack, and Matt Forte couldn't get anything going rushing the ball against the 49ers defensive line. The 49ers moved smartly down the field to kick a Field Goal on their second drive. Colin Kaepernick threw an Interception on one possession on a play where he basically underthrew Anquan Boldin, and on their next possession, Kaepernick fumbled while scrambling, as Jared Allen flew in and jarred the ball out of his grip. But none of these turnovers proved consequential, as the Bears continued to do nothing against a 49ers defense that appeared strong. A Bears punt late in the 2nd Quarter was returned by Bruce Ellington well into Bears territory, and after a long pass from Kaepernick to 3rd string Tight End Derek Carrier moved the ball to the 8 yard line, Frank Gore smashed the ball into the End Zone. With 2:22 to play in the first half, the 49ers were ahead 17-0 and things were going great.

But at this point, the Bears decided to abandon running the ball with Matt Forte and try to let Jay Cutler do something. With Marshall and Alshon Jeffery both hobbled by injuries, this was a dicey proposition, but somehow the Bears made it work. In spite of the fact that Cutler was drilled by Quinton Dial and looked half dead when he finally got up, Cutler managed to thread a pass in to Marshall, who made a leaping one-handed grab for a Bears Touchdown just before halftime.

Still, no worry. Particularly after the 49ers came out in the second half and rolled methodically down the field in a drive that took more than 9 minutes off the clock. But in prime position to punch it in for another Touchdown that could have iced the game, the 49ers called a pair of run plays that didn't accomplish much other than set up Dawson's Field Goal.

And that, my friends, is where everything fell apart.

After getting planted by Dial, Jay Cutler found his rhythm and began picking apart the 49ers secondary. Already shorthanded without Tramaine Brock, Cutler picked on players like Dontae Johnson and Perrish Cox, guys who had found success against Dallas but struggled against the Bears. Cutler capped off a somewhat sloppy 13-play drive with his second TD pass to Marshall that cut the 49ers lead to 20-14. Not a minute later, the Bears had the lead. On the first play following the TD, Kaepernick threw a pass for Crabtree that was more or less stolen away by Kyle Fuller and returned down to the 49ers' 3-yard line. Cutler made it count by throwing a Touchdown to Martellus Bennett on the following play.

Before the 49ers could realize what had hit them, they were behind, and the game was slipping away. Kaepernick tried to lead the 49ers back, but Kyle Fuller intercepted him again on a pass intended for Derek Carrier, and once again, Cutler led the Bears right through the 49ers defense for another Touchdown, their 3rd in the 4th Quarter, extending their lead to 28-20. Kaepernick led the 49ers on one spirited, final drive, working the ball down inside the Bears 20 yard line, but on 4th down, Kaepernick's pass into the End Zone intended for Crabtree led his receiver just a little too far and the ball bounced off Crabtree's outstretched hands and fell incomplete, and the game was lost along with it.

For all the good that the 49ers displayed against Dallas in Week 1, there was an equal amount of disturbing things that cropped up against the Bears. Kaepernick had perhaps his poorest performance since becoming the Starting Quarterback, throwing 3 bad interceptions and had a potential 4th pick overturned on replay. He also Fumbled. The defense forced no turnovers in response. The 49ers were penalized 16 times in a game that appeared dictated by the referees more than any normal NFL game should logically be. These penalties handed the Bears over 100 yards. The cornerbacks, Cox, Johnson, Chris Culliver and company, were mostly toasted by a pair of receivers nursing leg injuries. Vernon Davis was lost in the 4th quarter with an Ankle injury, diagnosis unclear. His replacement, Vance McDonald, continued to display nothing of value and departed with an injury of his own. Carlos Hyde, who displayed an exciting blend of burst and elusiveness in Dallas, managed very little against a Bears defense that stood up strong against the 49ers rushing attack. And, if all that wasn't bad enough, the 49ers blew a 17-point lead, at home, in the first game at their new stadium, on the same day that their chief Rival, the Seattle Seahawks, were upset on the road in San Diego.

These things combined add up to a lot of concern for a team that seems to generate a lot of concern, because of all the turmoil that seems to have followed them around over the past several months. It's easy to forget that the 49ers got beaten rather badly in Weeks 2 and 3 last season before reeling off 11 wins in their final 13 games, but that was a different team with a different schedule and a different set of circumstances. Right now, the 49ers sit at 1-1, coming off an embarrassing home loss and going on the road to play a tough, game Arizona Cardinals team that's 2-0 and looks like a team that's not going to go away easy. This season could get off to a similar start as it did last year. You just wonder if the 49ers have it in them to shove the words and the pain and the poor performances aside for another season.

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