On the Bears’ last stand Sunday, with the game and perhaps their season at stake, the defense crumbled. The 49ers needed to kill the clock, and everyone at Soldier Field knew they were about to run.
And it didn’t matter.
Like everything for the 49ers, this was easy. Rookie running back Elijah Mitchell swerved by nearly every defender for 39 yards to set up the game-icing field goal as the Bears fell 33-22 to a team that hadn’t won in more than a month.
Without Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson, the Bears allowed the 49ers’ offense to look better than it had all season. They had a scoring opportunity on every possession, failing only when they missed a 48-yard field goal on the opening drive.
“We didn’t get the stops like we needed to — there’s no doubt about that,” said special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor, who filled in for coach Matt Nagy, who missed the game because of the coronavirus. “You can’t argue that fact.
“I’m still gonna jump in a foxhole with all those guys, and we’re gonna work to get better. I know that’s big coach-speak, but we’re a team. We’re a family. We’re hurting right now, but we gotta bounce back.”
It is coach-speak. And it’s pretty much what Nagy would’ve said.
And it’s meaningless.
If the Bears don’t have a world-class defense, what exactly do they have?
On a day in which the offense was upbeat and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said it was time to “appreciate them for stepping up and putting up points,” the Bears managed 22 — still below the leaguewide average. That only qualifies as a lot if the defense is overwhelming.
It was the opposite. The same way the Bears always enjoy piling up points against the Lions, the 49ers used this game to make everything about their 20th-ranked offense look spectacular.
The Niners set their season high with 467 yards, the most the Bears have allowed in regulation since 2015. They ran at will, led by Mitchell’s 137 yards — highest against the Bears in nearly two years — and a touchdown on only 18 carries. And Jimmy Garoppolo looked like an All-Pro on a day in which the Bears never touched him and couldn’t stay within flailing distance of his receivers.
Garoppolo completed 17 of 28 passes for 322 yards and ran for two touchdowns. With Mack out, the Bears had no sacks and no quarterback hits.
For those unfamiliar with Garoppolo’s work, by the way, he’s not a runner and typically goes years between rushing touchdowns. But he ran two yards for a score late in the third quarter to bring the 49ers within 16-15 and put them up 30-22 on his five-yard run with 6:34 left.
While the Bears must’ve been surprised by Garoppolo’s wheels, they had to have seen Deebo Samuel coming. He went into the game as one of four players in the NFL averaging more than 100 receiving yards and lit up the Bears for the second-highest total of his career at 171 on six catches.
He had a 50-yarder over the top of cornerback Kindle Vildor with 25 seconds left in the first half that led to a field goal and went 83 yards on a screen pass in the third quarter to set up Garoppolo’s touchdown.
Extraneously, but noteworthy nonetheless, there was a play in between the 83-yarder and Garoppolo’s run when the Bears had only 10 defenders on the field.
The screen pass to Samuel was essentially a surrender by the 49ers on third-and-19, but they thoroughly outplayed the Bears. It was near-perfect blocking, and after Samuel slipped a tackle attempt by defensive lineman Mario Edwards and sprinted up the sideline, it took a desperate lunge by safety DeAndre Houston-Carson to force him out of bounds.
Houston-Carson took over for Jackson after he injured his hamstring on the second play of the game and did not return. Jackson had played every defensive snap this season before getting hurt.
The Bears tried to paint this as an aberration, but they can’t afford those when their offense is averaging 15.4 points.
“Ebbs and flows of the season,” Hicks said. “You’re gonna have your ups and downs. Sometimes you’re gonna get hit in the face. You just can’t sit on the [losses] too long.”
It’s more than just an inevitable speed bump. It’s the check-engine light. And if the floundering 49ers can hang 30-plus points on the Bears, anybody can.