Reflections on San Francisco 49ers Week 16 Loss to Chicago Bears

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SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 23: Nick Mullens #4 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass against the Chicago Bears during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The San Francisco 49ers lost a close game in Week 16 to the Chicago Bears 14-9, and the 49ers have fallen to 4-11 on the season. The Bears have improved to 11-4 with this victory and still have a chance to secure a first-round bye for the postseason. The Bears had much more to play for in this game than the 49ers did and credit them for coming up with a hard-earned victory.

San Francisco 49ers Week 16 Loss

Mullens Makes Bad Decision on Final Drive

This is yet another game this frustrating season in which the 49ers had a chance to win the game at the end, but tripped over themselves. Nick Mullens is going to have a brutal reaction to when he watches footage of that fourth down on their final drive when the 49ers needed a touchdown to win. It was a fourth and four, and he rolled to his right and appeared to have a clear field ahead of him to run for the first down and get out of bounds to stop the clock.

It was really set up perfectly since the 49ers had no timeouts and it would have been imperative for Mullens to get out of bounds to stop the clock. Instead of running for the first down, though, Mullens ended up heaving a pass towards the end zone that ultimately sailed off the field of play.

Mullens either wasn’t confident enough to feel as though he could run for that first down, or he simply didn’t see the opening. The latter is especially concerning because it indicates questionable decision-making under pressure. Also, even if he was banged up going into that play, there was more than enough room to pick up the first down based on how he was scrambling before throwing the pass.

The 49ers were on the Bears 45-yard line, and likely would have gotten at least inside the 40-yard line had he run on that fourth down. The 49ers offense would have then had less than 40 yards to go to score a touchdown and win the game with a little over a minute left to play. It would have been an extremely winnable scenario had Mullens had the presence of mind to run for that first down to keep the drive alive.

Mullens finished 22/38 for 241 yards, 6.3 yards per attempt, no touchdowns, one interception, and a 65.8 passer rating. The majority of the production from their passing game came from George Kittle and Kendrick Bourne, as they were the only players on the squad with over 30 receiving yards. Kittle had seven catches for 74 yards in his first game since learning that he had been selected to his first career Pro Bowl. Bourne had four catches for 73 yards. That yardage output was his highest of the season so far, surpassing the 71 yards he had back in Week Eight against the Arizona Cardinals.

Inconsistency from Mullens

The two-minute drill in the second half ended badly, but Mullens is occasionally able to show a lot of poise in those situations. The clock winding down in the first half certainly doesn’t possess the same type of pressure as a close game in the second half, but it can show glimpses of potential to effectively operate with the game on the line.

The Bears had gone 75 yards on eight plays near the end of the first half, capped off by a four-yard touchdown catch by Anthony Miller to put the Bears ahead 7-6 with 1:52 until halftime. Mullens responded by leading an eight-play drive that went 63 yards, and Robbie Gould kicked a field goal that put the 49ers ahead 9-7 at the break. It’s nice to see that Mullens is capable of moving the offense in the final two minutes of a half, but when it mattered most, he didn’t make the necessary play to keep his team in the game.

49ers Defense Forces Turnovers

The reason the 49ers had an opportunity to march down the field to win at the end was due to a huge play by the defense. Tarvarius Moore made a phenomenal play to poke the ball free after a catch made by Allen Robinson that would have essentially sealed the game. Greg Mabin recovered the bouncing ball, and it gave the offense an opportunity to go down the field to try to win the game in the final two minutes. Despite this crucial fumble, Robinson had a really solid game, leading the Bears with six catches and 85 receiving yards.

The 49ers defense had struggled to force turnovers this entire season, but they were able to generate two big takeaways this game. The other takeaway occurred in the second quarter when DeForest Buckner was able to recover a lateral that was dropped by Tarik Cohen. That gave the 49ers offense great field position, and their resulting offensive drive was capped off by a 30-yard field goal by Gould.

Red Zone Problems for 49ers Offense

The offense was never really able to capitalize on opportunities, particularly in the red zone. With only 47 rushing yards on 15 carries in this game, it was crucial that Mullens and the passing game asserted themselves in the red zone.

The 49ers have had problems in the red zone all season, and they continued today, not getting any touchdowns on three trips inside the red zone. Unless a team has a remarkable defense, it’s extremely hard to win this league if the offense continuously leaves points off the board on those red zone trips. Two of those three opportunities resulted in field goals by Gould, while the other resulted in an interception by Danny Trevathan after Jeff Wilson deflected the pass.

Bears Make Crucial Mistakes

A case could certainly be made that the Bears allowed this game to be closer than it should have been because of their own mistakes, though. Cody Parkey missed a 37-yard field goal in the first quarter, and had the Bears had those extra three points, the 49ers could have only forced overtime at best on their final drive.

Robinson fumbling with under two minutes to go could have easily been catastrophic, especially since the game would have virtually been over if he had just gone to the ground after securing the first down.

Trubisky Has Really Good Performance

Mitchell Trubisky exploited a secondary that has had problems containing opposing aerial attacks all season. Trubisky finished the game going 25/29 for 246 yards, 8.5 yards per attempt, one touchdown no interceptions, and a 113.5 passer rating.

The Bears needed Trubisky to have a good game since they were only able to average 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. Jordan Howard led the Bears with 53 rushing yards on 13 carries, including a two-yard touchdown run on the Bears first offensive drive of the second half in what would be the final score of the game.

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