A strong defensive performance by the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field was spoiled by two big plays late in the game. The mistakes allowed the San Francisco 49ers to first tie the score late in the fourth quarter, then to win it 26-20, in overtime.
Coming into the game, Chicago's defense had done well in preventing big plays. Prior to the Week 13 contest against the 49ers, the Bears had allowed six pass plays of 40 or more yards this season, one of the lowest totals in the NFL. In the run game, the Bears were even better. Just three of the 295 rushing attempts against Chicago during the first 11 games went for 20 or more yards, tied for the fewest in the NFL. None of the runs eclipsed 40 yards, another feat that had Chicago ranked as the league's best.
San Francisco quarterback Blaine Gabbert ran for 44 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
Against the 49ers, Chicago allowed three plays total that went for 20 or more yards. However, two of them essentially cost the Bears the game. With 1:52 remaining in the fourth quarter, San Francisco quarterback Blaine Gabbert dropped back to pass and looked for an open man downfield. Outside pressure from the pass rush forced Gabbert to step up in the pocket. Problem was, nobody was in the middle of the field, so the mobile quarterback took off. Safety Adrian Amos took a poor angle in trying to stop Gabbert, and linebacker Jonathan Anderson was unable to catch the quarterback from behind, as the 49er ran 44 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
Afterwards, Amos said that Gabbert had been sliding when he was near the first-down marker, and on that run the rookie safety expected that to happen again. Unfortunately, Gabbert never opted to go down, and Amos was unable to recover. Chicago knew running was part of Gabbert's repertoire, but still allowed the big play to occur.
"The quarterback, man, the guy has got some speed," said outside linebacker Pernell McPhee. "We knew it going in, we knew we had to handle his speed. He just took off and he made some incredible plays with his legs."
Overall, the Bears run defense was fairly strong. Chicago held 49ers running back Shaun Draughn to just 36 yards on 13 carries. Prior to Gabbert's big scamper, the longest gain of the afternoon on the ground for San Francisco went for just seven yards. Yet one poor play can ruin an entire afternoon's work.
The same could be said for the Bears pass defense. San Francisco averaged just 4.7 yards per pass play, the second-fewest Chicago has allowed all season. The 49ers had just six passing first downs in the game, which was the lowest of any Bears opponent in 2015.
Yet in the end, it was the pass defense that let the Bears down on Sunday. In overtime, the two teams exchanged punts before San Francisco took over at its own 29. On the first play of their second drive, the 49ers ran a play-action. Gabbert faked to Draughn, then looked downfield. Wide receiver Torrey Smith had run a post corner from the left side of the formation, faking towards the middle before breaking free down the sideline. Gabbert hit the receiver perfectly, as Smith never had to break stride before sprinting into the end zone on a 71-yard walk-off touchdown.
"It was a good play on Gabbert's part," Bears coach John Fox said. "We didn't execute as well as we needed to."
After the game, members of the Bears secondary said there was a miscommunication on the final play. Amos and fellow safety Chris Prosinski were in two different coverages, the reason Smith was so open deep down the field.
The two lapses negated some positive signs from the Bears defense. Chicago held the 49ers to three-and-outs on seven drives. The team also rushed the quarterback well, taking Gabbert down four times. Rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman had two sacks and outside linebacker Willie Young had 1.5.
"I'm very proud of where (Goldman) is at. He has not arrived yet, but he's definitely making strides," Young said. "(His pressure in the middle) means everything. That allows the guys on the edge to get after the quarterback and just let it go. When you have that kind of inside production it's crucial, it's must-have. Without it a quarterback knows he's safer in the pocket. A guy like Eddie Goldman can push the pocket and force the issue up the middle."
The Bears will look to take the positives from Sunday's performance into the last four games of the 2015 season. When the film is turned on, however, it is going to be hard to ignore those two big plays that made all the difference in the loss to the 49ers.