The Chicago Bears lost their third consecutive game on Sunday, falling to the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 33-22. Now, at 3-5, their playoff hopes continue to fade as the Green Bay Packers pull further away in the NFC North. The Bears currently hold the 13th seed in the NFC playoff picture, which makes them the third-worst team in the conference only head of the New York Giants (2-5) and Detroit Lions (0-8). However, they still find themselves only one game out of the final Wild Card spot.
On Sunday, Chicago dropped one of its more winnable games. San Francisco was on their own four-game losing streak and played a Sunday night game in a monsoon in Week 7. As disappointing as the loss was for the Bears, there were a few reassuring things that came from the Week 8 contest.
Here are the main takeaways from the Bears' loss to the 49ers.
The Chicago Bears entered this contest without head coach Matt Nagy, who was away from the team all week after testing positive for COVID-19. There was still a chance for him to return to the sidelines in time for the game, but he did not clear the protocols and missed the game. That left special teams coordinator Chris Tabor in charge of head coaching duties against San Francisco.
While Nagy was watching the game from his undisclosed location, the Bears still suited up without him and life moved on. Unfortunately, the result was still the same. Even in defeat, the product on the field looked marginally better -- at least on offense. It almost felt like a cloud that has been hovering over the team (Nagy) lifted and resulted in a little extra pep in the Bears' step. Maybe the time apart did some good, especially for Justin Fields and the offense. Not the same can be said for the defense, but more on that later.
Nevertheless, Chris Tabor yielding the same result but doing a slightly better job than his boss is not a good sign for Nagy. If anything, it proved that Nagy doesn't provide a level of guidance that an interim head coach couldn't bring to the team. It's evident that Tabor along with John DeFilippo and Bill Lazor can handle the duties as a cohesive unit. Life without Nagy can be better, and for the rest of the season, it can be a little more fun without the aloof attitude and word salads.
I don't know about other Bears fans, but a Nagy-free Sunday is something I'd sign up for. At least for the remainder of 2021.
What a game the rookie quarterback had, especially considering the travesty he endured against the Buccaneers last week. Justin Fields responded very well against the 49ers. He connected on 19 of 27 passes, which was good for a completion percentage of 70.4%. Fields threw for 175 yards and tossed one touchdown, which in itself was an amazing throw that was perfectly placed with the right amount of touch.
His lone interception came late in the game when he threw the ball up to Darnell Mooney attempting to spark a comeback while the team was down 11 points. Unfortunately, the ball hit Mooney in the hands and landed into Josh Norman's.
Additionally, Fields had a monster game on the ground, rushing for 10.3 yards per attempt. In total, he gained 103 yards on 10 attempts including this ridiculous touchdown run.
Fields finished the game with 278 total yards and two touchdowns.
Surprisingly, Fields' 103 yards on the ground proved to be monumental in Bears' history.
Justin Fields displayed a glimpse of why Ryan Pace and Bears traded up nine spots in the draft to select him. His ability to bounce back from a brutal game and showcase his raw talent like that was remarkable. Fields has so much untapped potential, which gives Bears fans and the organization some hope. It's just a matter of coaching him up the right way or just having the right coach there.
Finally, Fields looked comfortable and the game plan actually was catered to his strengths. The Bears used more designed rollouts and designed runs that didn't limit his capabilities.
Offense: By The Numbers
In the absence of Matt Nagy, the Bears' offense put up 324 yards on 67 plays, good for an average of 4.8 per play. The Bears gained 148 of those yards through the air on 31 dropbacks (4.8 yds/attempt), which included four sacks for loss totaling 27 yards.
The remaining 176 yards of offense came on the ground via 36 rushing attempts (4.9 yds/rush). The running game picked up 103 yards on 10 rushes (10.3 avg) from Fields. Thus, the remaining 73 yards came on 26 attempts (2.8 avg). Here is the distribution of those carries and yards:
- Khalil Herbert: 23 rushes, 72 yards (3.1 avg)
- Ryan Nall: 1 rush, 4 yards (4.0 avg)
- Damien Williams: 2 rushes, -3 yards (-1.5 avg)
Additionally, the offense logged 22 first downs. The passing game accounted for 10 of those and the rushing game moved the chains nine times. The remaining three first downs were gifted by penalties.
Third- and Fourth-Down Efficiency
The Bears' offense had a much better performance on the ever so crucial third and fourth downs. On third downs, the Bears successfully converted eight of 15 opportunities (53.3%). In addition, they converted their lone fourth-down try when Fields scrambled for a 22-yard touchdown.
Overall, they picked up nine out of 16 of their third and fourth downs.
Now, the red zone is where the Bears struggled on Sunday. They only converted one of their three chances. They left eight points on the field when they settled for two field goals. Better efficiency in the red zone will be crucial for the Bears' offense as they will need every point they can get against their opponents going forward. Currently, Chicago ranks 26th in the NFL in red-zone efficiency with a 55.0% conversion rate.
There is no easy way to say this: Sean Desai was woeful against the 49ers. The defense as a whole was bad, especially in the second half.
But in the first half, they managed to hold the 49ers to only nine points on three field goals.
After halftime, the bottom fell out beginning with the 49ers picking up 83 yards on a third-and-19 situation from their own 16-yard line. San Francisco then proceeded to score touchdowns on three straight possessions. They also added a field goal as part of their second-half success
All in all, the Bears' defense allowed 467 yards on 54 plays for an average of 8.6 yards per play. Of course, 322 yards came through the air. Jimmy Garoppolo shredded Chicago's defense for 11.5 yards per attempt. Rookie running back Elijah Mitchell gashed the Bears' run defense for 137 yards on 18 carries (7.6 avg) and one touchdown.
Furthermore, the Bears' secondary had no answer for Deebo Samuel, who went off for 171 yards on six receptions, an average of 28.5 yards per catch. To make matters worse, the Bears logged the following eye-popping stats:
- Sacks: 0
- QB Hits: 0
- Takeaways: 0
- Forced Punts: 0
Kyle Shanahan ate Sean Desai's lunch in the second half and exploited all the weaknesses of the Bears' defense. The worst part? There were no adjustments made. This marks the third straight game Coach Desai and his defense have been humiliated. To be fair, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are heading to the Hall of Fame. But letting Jimmy Garoppolo do that your unit? Have some pride.
Sure, Cairo Santos missed one of his two extra points and that was hard to watch. His lone miss happened on the south end of Soldier Field, which has been a notorious location for missed kicks the last few years.
However, Santos connected on all three of his field-goal attempts. As a result, he extended his consecutive made field goal streak to 38. That's an impressive figure.
The absence of Khalil Mack was noticeable.
The defense is just not the same without him. There were a handful of plays Garoppolo was able to extend that Mack probably would have changed. He and Roquan Smith are the heart and soul of the defense, and it becomes extremely evident when one is missing. The Bears' defense as currently constructed needs a consistent pass rush to mask the deficiencies of the secondary. Mack draws the most attention up front, which in turn frees up his teammates.
The Bears suffered a rash of injuries on Sunday. Notably, Eddie Jackson exited with a hamstring injury on the third play of the game and was ruled out a short time later.
Similarly, running back Damien Williams suffered a knee injury in the early stages of the game and was done for the day.
Two additional Bears players went down with injuries but ultimately returned to the game. First, Khalil Herbert left the game with what appeared to be a head or neck issue. Despite going to the locker room, he re-entered the game late in the fourth quarter.
Safety Tashaun Gipson also left the game with an undisclosed ailment but did manage to finish the game.
In the end, the Bears lost yet another game, this time without Nagy. But in the grand scheme of things, it was a positive step for the Bears and for Justin Fields. Watching the rookie quarterback rebound strongly from the clunker of a game he had last week was a welcome sight for Bears' fans. All in all, the game plan looked much improved and it was better suited for Fields' strengths and skill set.
Ultimately, the goal for 2021 isn't about wins and losses or trying to maximize the defense. This season is strictly about developing Fields along to a point where he can take off in 2022 and beyond. Sunday marked another game under his belt and it proved what he's capable of at the NFL level.
The Bears are now only one day away from the trade deadline and one game away from a bye week when actual changes could take place. Maybe that could entail a change at head coach?
What's On Tap Next?
The Chicago Bears (3-5) will head to Pennsylvania to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) in Week 9. Unfortunately, the Bears will be under the bright lights again when they take the field for Monday Night Football on November 8 at 7:15 PM CT on ESPN.
Chicago will have its hands full with the Steelers' defense, which is led by T.J Watt, Cameron Heyward, Devin Bush, Joe Haden, Terrell Edmunds, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. On the flip side, the Bears' defense will have to deal with Najee Harris, Chase Claypool, and Diontae Johnson. While Ben Roethlisberger isn't quite what he once was, he's still a threat to a defense that's wounded and reeling.
Additionally, Mike Tomlin is one of the better head coaches in the NFL and he will surely have his team prepared. The Steelers are starting to find their stride, especially after beating a divisional rival in the Cleveland Browns. Meanwhile, the Bears are sputtering and looking to snap a three-game skid.
Be sure to tune into the Bears On Tap podcast for postgame reaction, updates, and analysis throughout the week in addition to discussions on a variety of Bears-related topics.