The Bears hadn’t won in San Francisco since their last Super Bowl winning year of 1985. Not only that, some of the losses since then at Candlestick Park had been the stuff of nightmares.
Two years ago the Niners destroyed Lovie Smith’s defence as Colin Kaepernick dazzled on his first NFL start, while in 2009 the Bears held San Fran to just 10 points yet still found a way to lose, as Jay Cutler threw five interceptions (including two in the red zone) in a 10-6 reversal.
That was a rare close one; usually these games are blow outs. A point differential of 271 to 39 since that 1985 win tells it’s own story, and coming off that bad home loss to the Bills in Week 1 most didn’t give the Bears any chance of upsetting Jim Harbaugh’s Niners.
Other than the “Any Given Sunday” argument, there was little to suggest Chicago could go into the Niners’ new home and spoil their party. The Bears haven’t been able to stop the run since Lovie Smith and Brian Urlacher departed, whereas San Fran are perhaps the best running team in the NFL. The defence held the Bills to 20 points but still gave up a ton of yards on the ground. Actually it was a shade under two ton, suggesting last year’s problem hadn’t gone away.
Chicago would therefore be relying heavily on it’s offence. Problem was, both their Pro Bowl receivers were playing on one wheel and two of their starting offensive line were out. The omens weren’t good and I wasn’t looking forward to this one at all, especially after the letdown against Buffalo last week.
Sunday and Monday night games are always difficult for UK fans as it means not getting to bed until 5am, by which point you’re often no longer even tired. Needing to be up at 7.30 for the school run I asked myself throughout the day; “Why am I bothering to stay up for this? It’s only going one way and in the morning I’ll wish I’d not bothered”
The reason I stayed up despite having zero expectation of seeing a Bears win was simple; I’m a fan and that’s what fans do: they watch their team. I may wish I hadn’t afterwards and I’ll occasionally be cursing them throughout…. but I’ll watch. I always do. There’ll be times when I’ll want to switch off, times when I’ll hate myself for sitting through it, but sit through it I will.
After the opening couple of minutes of this I feared a Broncos Superbowl type meltdown, where everything that could go wrong would go wrong.
First Senorise Perry runs the opening kick off out from near the back of the end zone and barely gets past the ten yard line. Why he’d do that is anyone’s guess as this unit can’t block anybody and it feels like they draw some kind of penalty flag on every return. They did on this one too, meaning Cutler and the offence were backed up from the opening play on the 7 yard line.
When the kick off rule was changed to allow fewer returns it was regarded as a bad thing for the Bears at the time. After all, they had Devin Hester back there and Dave Toub coaching. Now it feels like a blessing whenever a kick flies out the back of the end zone and Cutler can start from the relative safety of his own 20.
Two vanilla run plays for no significant gain and an incompletion later, the punt unit were on and allowing the Niners to block Pat O’Donnell’s kick and give Kaepernick great field position. Three plays later it’s 7-0 and the Bears were in an early hole.
They just couldn’t get anything going on offence at all in the first half. Cutler was out of sync with his wideouts – perhaps due to them not being able to get to the spot he’d usually be throwing to – and for whatever reason the running game wasn’t working at all either.
The Bears had less than 50 yards of total offence before eventually scoring on an 80 yard drive when Brandon Marshall made an incredible one handed catch just before half time. They had been trailing 17-0 up until then, but it felt more like a 28-0 game such was San Francisco’s dominance.
The defence had actually played pretty well to keep the score down. They came up with one first half turnover when much maligned free safety Chris Conte lived up to his “Birdman” nickname by making a flying interception that the offence were unable to convert into points.
Until Marshall’s TD with seconds left in the half, this game had been a completely one sided affair and Chicago were being dominated in all three phases. “We didn’t do anything right” said coach Marc Trestman at the half. That was an understatement.
No matter how one sided a game can be though, we’ve seen time and again how quickly things can turn around in the NFL. That’s one of the reasons it’s such an amazing sport to watch. Momentum plays a huge part and momentum can shift on a single play. Looking back, Marshall’s first TD was perhaps when the momentum began to shift, especially as it came just two plays after Cutler had been drilled in the chest by the crown of a Niners linebacker’s helmet. Cutler somehow got up and after one play to get his wind back he was firing a pass to Marshall to put the Bears on the board. Say what you like about Cutler, but he’s incredibly tough.
At half time I didn’t see any way the Bears were turning this one around at all. That Marshall score provided a little hope, but when Kaepernick led the 49ers on a nine minute field goal scoring drive to start the second half I figured that had killed any momentum Chicago had. How wrong I was.
Going into the 4th quarter the Bears trailed by 20-7. It didn’t look good but then the D stepped up like the Bears of old. It’s too early to proclaim the Monster of the Midway are back, but it was nice seeing them making some plays for a change. They caused three second half turnovers with rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller snaring two quick interceptions that provided Cutler with great field position that he made the most of.
The Bears QB hit Martellus Bennett for one score and tossed a further two to his favourite target Marshall, and against all the odds Chicago got one back after that upset loss to the Bills last week.
Onto next week then and another late one, this time on Monday night against the Jets. These 5am finishes are tough but I’ll take them all season if the end result is as favourable as this one. As Del Boy Trotter used to say back in his yuppie days, sleep is for wimps anyway.