SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Powered by a stingy defense and a resilient offense, the Bears rallied for a 14-9 victory over the 49ers Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.
The defense did not allow a touchdown for the second time in three games and made two key late stops, while the offense rebounded from an inconsistent first half to string together a 12-play, 90-yard TD drive on its first possession of the third quarter.
With their eighth win in nine games, the Bears (11-4) secured at least the third seed in the NFC playoffs. The NFC North champions can still earn the second seed and a first-round bye with a road victory over the Vikings coupled with a Rams home loss to the 49ers next Sunday. The Bears-Vikings game has been flexed from noon to 3:25 p.m., the same time the Rams-49ers contest is set to kick off.
The win in San Francisco was more of a grind than a masterpiece, but that was just fine with Matt Nagy, who became the first Bears coach to win 11 games in his first season.
“Any way you get a victory, you always take them, and it was a great job by our guys,” Nagy said. “When you play on the road in this league, they’re never easy, and our guys found a way to win. We always talk about whether it’s being calloused or whether it’s hitting some adversity. Throughout the game, really in all three phases, we saw that today.”
Trailing 9-7 at halftime, the Bears opened the second half by marching the length of the field, eventually taking a 14-9 lead on Jordan Howard’s 2-yard touchdown run.
The defense preserved the lead, blanking the 49ers in the second half, not allowing them to advance inside the red zone on four possessions. San Francisco did reach the Bears’ 20 midway through the fourth quarter. But Danny Trevathan intercepted a Nick Mullens pass at the 14 after it had deflected off the hands of receiver Marquise Goodwin.
It appeared that the Bears would be able to run out the clock late in the game when Allen Robinson II caught a 10-yard pass from Mitchell Trubisky on third-and-three. But cornerback Tarvarius Moore punched the ball loose from behind and recovered it at the 49ers’ 24 with 1:52 remaining.
The Bears defense rose to the occasion again, forcing San Francisco to turn the ball over on downs with 1:05 to play after three straight Mullens incompletions from the Chicago 45.
“Because we’ve been in this situation so many times and we’ve come up big, it’s almost expected of us,” said cornerback Prince Amukamara. “Like when we had to go back on the field to win it, everyone was poised. Nobody was shaken. We expected great things to come out of here.”
The only points the defense allowed Sunday came on Robbie Gould field goals of 33, 30 and 23 yards on the 49ers’ final three possessions of the first half.
The Bears turned a 6-0 deficit into a 7-6 lead when Trubisky rifled a 4-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Miller with 1:52 left in the half. The TD came three plays after a holding penalty on linebacker Fred Warner erased an interception by cornerback K’Waun Williams in the end zone.
“It’s neat to be able to see [Trubisky] go from a play where there is an interception, where there’s a fumble, where there’s a poor read that no one sees, but then he comes back and throws a strike,” Nagy said. “That’s great growth. That’s part of who he’s going to be in this offense.”
Miller’s TD came after the Bears had mustered only four first downs on their first four possessions of the game. Cody Parkey missed a 37-yard field goal and Trubisky’s ill-advised overhand lateral to Tarik Cohen resulted in a fumble that the 49ers recovered at the Chicago 26.
But the offense regrouped at halftime and burned 7:43 off the clock in marching 90 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Trubisky completed 7 of 7 passes on the drive, 16 of 17 in the second half and 25 of 29 in the game.
“As an offense in the first half, it was a little choppy,” Nagy said. “We’ve had those halves before. The beauty of our guys, our players on offense, is that they’re resilient in the way they stay positive, they get in at halftime, they figure out the ‘why’ part.
“Then we go out and we go right down the field—whether it’s running or throwing—and we make plays and score a touchdown.”