Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-49ers (11.19.12)

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Same story, different quarterback: A vulnerable Jason Campbell was sacked six times and intercepted twice by the 49ers.
Same story, different quarterback: A vulnerable Jason Campbell was sacked six times and intercepted twice by the 49ers.

Early Monday morning it was revealed that San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback Alex Smith was not medically cleared to play for Monday night’s showdown with the Bears. But, by the way backup Colin Kaepernick played in his first NFL start, it doesn’t look like the Niners will have to rush back Smith anytime soon.

Kaepernick shredded the Bears defense, completing 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 32-7 rout.

The Niners received the opening kickoff and began their first drive at their own 18-yard-line. One would think a team that led the NFL in rushing yards entering the game would come out and attack the defense with its ground game, but the Niners had other plans. Kaepernick completed four of five passes on the opening drive for 45 yards as he led the offense on a nine-play drive that ended with a field goal.

After a quick three-and-out by the Bears — which saw Jason Campbell get sacked after inexplicably lining up in shotgun formation on third and two — Kaepernick returned to work completing three passes on the next drive for 69 yards and a touchdown to tight end Vernon Davis. The Bears had no answer for the Niners’ physically gifted tight end, who finished with six catches for 83 yards and the score.

(At this point, I’ll throw in the gratuitous wisecrack about the Bears’ tight end situation: “It must be nice to have a tight end named ‘Davis’ that can catch the ball.”)

With a 10-0 San Francisco lead just halfway into the first quarter, any hope for a competitive battle was quickly fading. Surprisingly, though, the Bears did the right thing on their next drive. They did not panic being in an early hole and they stay committed to the run game. They picked up two first downs on their second drive and Matt Forte rushed four times for 14 yards while Campbell hooked up with rookie Alshon Jeffery for a nine-yard gain. Jeffery had a pair of catches in his first game back from a broken hand. Unfortunately, the drive ended with a punt.

On the Niners’ third drive of the game, they struck again, this time heavily using their ground game. Running back Frank Gore rushed four times for 33 yards on the drive and backup Kendall Hunter scored from 14 yards out to give the Niners a 17-0 edge. Gore finished with 78 yards on 17 carries and Hunter added 27 yards on five carries.

The Niners scored on their fourth-straight possession, tacking on a David Akers field goal to go up 20-0 heading into halftime. By that point the Bears were just trying to stop the bleeding and save some dignity. Coach Lovie Smith acknowledged afterward: “we were lucky to be down only 20-0 at the half.”

In the second half, San Francisco picked up right where it left off and went on a five-play, 62-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard Kaepernick touchdown pass to receiver Michael Crabtree.

Down 27-0, the Bears offense finally showed some signs of life on its best drive of the game. Campbell led the Bears on a 13-play drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall, who had been jawing with defenders throughout the game. By that time, though, it was too little too late. The Niners capped off the scoring by tacking on another field goal and a safety — when Campbell was sacked in the end zone, fumbled, and then guard Chilo Rachal was tackled while trying to advance it out of the end zone.

The game was a failure on so many fronts. The offense was bad. The defense was bad. The special teams was bad. Campbell was sacked six times and threw two interceptions. He completed just 14 of 22 pass attempts for 107 yards and the lone touchdown to Marshall. Marshall had just two receptions on the night after being stifled by the Niners’ physical defense. Devin Hester had three receptions for 23 yards, and Kellen Davis had just two catches for 20 yards. When the Bears were committed to the run game, Forte was producing nicely. But after the game got out of hand, Forte finished with just 63 yards on 21 carries. The number of rushing attempts were about where they needed to be, but the Bears could not score enough points to make them matter.

We’ve seen this same song and dance from the Bears offense so, while extremely disappointing, there was nothing surprising about its performance. It was the defense’s effort against the young and inexperienced Kaepernick that was shockingly awful. Lance Briggs, Nick Roach, Israel Idonije and Corey Wootton each recorded a half-sack, but aside from that, the pass rush was almost non-existent. Kaepernick had all day to settle in the pocket and complete his throws. The secondary got torched as both safeties — Major Wright and Chris Conte — blew assignments and cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings — who had been playing at a Pro Bowl level this season — both got burned by the opposition.

To further explain just how awful the entire team effort was, Hester decided to show the prime time audience just how clueless at times he can be on punt returns by running backwards and sideways instead of up the field. On one return, Hester fielded a punt and immediately took about three or four steps backwards as if he were a quarterback dropping back in a pocket to make a pass. He then proceeded to run laterally across the field and continued going backwards until he was finally brought down for a nine-yard loss.

According to CSN Chicago’s John Mullin, the Bears defense severely took Kaepernick for granted and were greeted by a harsh “wakeup call.” One unnamed member of the defense said they expected Kaepernick to “throw a couple to us” while another member said “that’s a different team than I’ve been watching.” It’s quite possible that the Bears defense is just using the “element of surprise” as a cover story for their actual defensive deficiencies. But if it’s true that they were indeed expecting Kaepernick to play worse and give them presents in the form of turnovers, then shame on them and the coaching staff for not being prepared.

Panic is surely going to settle in across Chicagoland after this thorough thrashing at the hands of the Niners. I wish I could put a positive spin on this loss but there’s little to feel good about.

The only bright spot — which is about the equivalent of a lit match from a hundred yards away — is that the Bears’ current two-game losing streak was expected by most, if not all analysts who predicted the schedule in the preseason. I would think that of those prognosticators, not many felt the Bears would look as bad as they did.

At 7-3, the Bears are still in good shape in the standings and currently hold the No. 1 wild card spot — yes, they’ve lost the division lead to the Packers at this point. If the playoffs were to start today, they’d face the New York Giants in the first round, who have been struggling mightily this year. But the Giants are perhaps the best-equipped — and most experienced — team in the league at flipping on the light switch when the playoffs begin.

That’s neither here nor there, however, because the playoffs are a long way away and a lot can happen between now and then. The first thing the Bears need to do is break their losing streak and gain some confidence back. That begins with running the ball better, protecting the quarterback, generating a pass rush on the opposing quarterback, and maintaining defensive assignments so as not to give up big plays.

They’ll get their first chance to course correct next week at Soldier Field against the rival Minnesota Vikings.

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