As it turned out, the 49ers were an eminently beatable team Thursday night. Their defense put good pressure on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, especially in the second half, but their offense hardly capitalized on five turnovers. And punter Andy Lee’s touchback on a punt from the 36-yard line gave the Bears better field position than they should have had to start their final drive.
The Bears defense played with an intensity and aggressiveness that we haven’t seen in a while. But in the end, 49ers tailback Frank Gore piled up more yardage than I thought he would, finishing with 104 yards on 25 carries. He was especially effective in helping the 49ers run off more than six minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter.
San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith didn’t do much to help the 49ers’ cause, and the Bears limited him to 118 yards on 16-of-23 passing. But Chicago only pressured him into one mistake, a poor deep pass that cornerback Zackary Bowman intercepted.
I urged the Bears to put the game on Cutler’s shoulders on the premise that tailback Matt Forte wouldn’t get enough running room to give them a balanced attack. If the Bears were going to go down, I reasoned, it should be while riding the player they mortgaged their short-term future on. On cue, Forte managed 41 yards on 20 carries. And the Bears went down with Cutler, who threw two interceptions in the end zone and five overall.
I understand what the NFL Network’s Matt Millen was saying about some of Cutler’s interceptions. All five weren’t solely his fault. But I thought Cutler played with a jacked-up, frenetic pace that led him to overanticipate some passes and force some others. Devin Hester might have bumped into the umpire on one of the interceptions, but Cutler still pushed the ball his way in an undisciplined fashion. In the red zone, Cutler seems so locked in on tight ends -- especially Greg Olsen -- that he doesn’t seem to be seeing the entire field. It sure looked like receiver Earl Bennett was open on the final play.
I’m sure the Bears defense wishes it had gotten the ball back for its offense sooner in the fourth quarter. But it produced a pretty impressive effort, holding the admittedly lackluster 49ers to 12 first downs and 216 offensive yards. That included several “hello” moments from defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who notched a sack and also had a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. The overall performance came despite the absence of safeties Kevin Payne (back) and Al Afalava (shoulder). Veteran Josh Bullocks was forced into the starting lineup as a result.
As Pirates4Vikings noted on the previous post, this loss leaves the Bears needing help if they want to win the NFC North. Minnesota can now win the division with three consecutive victories, all at the Metrodome, and two losses by Green Bay over the same stretch.
That’s it for now. For regular readers, please note that this post will count as our Week 10 “Third and one” for the Bears.