49ers can't buck early-season trend

There's a trend that's put a damper on Jim Harbaugh's run as 49ers head coach in his four seasons. And it reared its head Sunday night in the loss to the Bears.

Jim Harbaugh is the only coach in league history to reach the conference championship game in each of his first three seasons in the NFL.

But since coming to the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, he's opened the regular season with consecutive wins just once. And even then, the team fell in Week 3 of 2012 to the Minnesota Vikings after entering as seven-point road favorites.

With Sunday night's 28-20 loss to the Bears to open Levi's Stadium, coming into the game, again, as seven-point favorites, that trend continued. Harbaugh's 49ers have lost in Week 2 in three of the last four seasons after being perfect in openers.

"It stings to lose. And we all have fingerprints on it," Harbaugh said after the game.

San Francisco lost to the Cowboys in overtime in Week 2 of 2011. Last year they fell in Seattle 29-3 the second week and then to Indianapolis 27-7.

"We’ll look to see where we can improve and how we can be better for it. Bears made plays, especially in that second half. And we look at where the breakdowns were and where we can get better from them, how we can improve. And that’s what you do. Make darn sure it doesn’t happen again."

San Francisco has done well since Harbaugh took over to make "darn sure" these losses come few and far between. Prior to last year's Week 3 loss to the Colts, the 49ers had never lost back-to-back games under Harbaugh. They lost two consecutive again later in the year to the Panthers and Saints.

The silver lining: those quick losing streaks were sandwiched by five and eight-game winning streaks, including the postseason. Harbaugh's teams have simply avoided any sort of prolonged stretches of losing, which has played a major role in contending for Super Bowls in each of his three years.

In terms of approach, coaches often break the 16-game season into four-game quarters. Harbaugh has never finished worse than 2-2 in any quarter since joining the 49ers.

Is Sunday's loss to the Bears another example of this trend or something else?

The 49ers outgained the Bears by 145 yards and amassed 16 penalties for 118 yards - 60 yards more than Chicago. And they lost the turnover battle 4-0.

In 2013, San Francisco eclipsed three turnovers just twice. Both came in road losses in Seattle. The 49ers averaged just over one turnover a game, including the playoffs. And they averaged 6.2 penalties per game. Sunday's 16 was a clear outlier, but an area that must be addressed going forward.

Another troubling trend that was apparent in Week 1's win over the Cowboys and bled into Sunday's loss was the team's play in the second half. Through two games, the 49ers have outscored opponents 45-10 in the first half, but been outscored 38-3 in the second.

"When you’re up like that you’ve got to go for the kill," Frank Gore said, who rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown against the Bears. "We let them get back into the game. We didn’t finish and they beat us."


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