SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The San Francisco 49ers lost their home opener to the Bears in Levi’s Stadium, falling to 1-1 on the season and a game behind the first place Arizona Cardinals, who they play on Sunday.
They got off to a quick start, jumping out to a 17-0 lead in the first half before the Bears scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth to escape with the 28-20 win.
It was a sloppy game for San Francisco, who amassed 16 penalties for 118 yards. It lost despite out gaining the Bears by 145 yards. Ultimately, it was mistake after mistake that cost the 49ers a chance to be 2-0. Not to mention the complete lack of pass rush in the second half.
The All 22 game tape bore that out:
Colin Kaepernick’s four-turnover performance deserves most of the blame. But the reasoning for his three interceptions is more nuanced than just bad reads and throws.
First, the good. On Michael Crabtree’s three-yard touchdown reception early in the first quarter the play was won before the snap (although Chicago had a legitimate beef with the play clock being expired). Crabtree was lined up against Tim Jennings in the right slot with Stevie Johnson and Anquan Boldin flanking him. He was set in motion and shadowed by safety Chris Conte, indicating that Jennings was coming on a blitz.
Knowing that, Johnson’s slant set a pick Conte couldn’t get around, leaving Crabtree wide open in the right flat for the easy score. It was an easy throw that Kaepernick nearly air-mailed, but it Crabtree was still able to come down with it in-bounds. Credit coordinator Greg Roman for the concept.
The bad: on the play Charles Tillman picked Kaepernick that ended up being overturned via replay, the ball was thrown to Johnson, who was setting a pick on a designed bubble screen to Boldin. For whatever reason, Kaepernick proactively thought the secondary would overplay the screen allowing Johnson to break free on the slant. Instead, Johnson was falling down after trying to set the pick, was called for offensive pass interference, and the ball ended up in Tillman’s hands.
The ball hit the ground before Tillman gained control and ended up being a big break for the 49ers at the time, holding a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Later in the red zone on the same drive, Kaepernick missed chances to score before settling for a field goal. On second down, he immediately went to Crabtree on a short out on the right side. He had Vernon Davis in the slot with a favorable match up with a linebacker inside. He went up the seam and was available for a potential score, but Kaepernick’s mind had already been made up before the snap.
On third-and-10, when he hit Carlos Hyde in the left flat, he had Boldin on a slant over the middle that likely would have gotten the first down. Kaepernick was pressured on the play, looked at a covered Davis over the middle, but missed a wide-open Boldin to his right.
Conte’s interception in the second quarter was a simple of case starring down his target. The 49ers were strong on the right side, and Conte, the only high safety, was moving that way at the snap. Kaepernick’s eyes were locked on Boldin running a go route and Conte made a great play. If Kaepernick forced any hesitation from Conte he wouldn’t gotten in front of Boldin in time for the pick.
On Kaepernick’s second interception (Kyle Fuller’s first) in the fourth quarter, it’s hard to find fault with the quarterback. It wasn’t a perfect throw. But, typically, on comeback routes, quarterbacks are taught to lead the receiver to the outside toward the sideline. And that’s the direction Fuller broke. An argument can be made that Crabtree could have done a better job boxing out Fuller on the outside, but it’s not a play corners usually make. Their play is usually on the inside of the receiver to force them to the sideline and not upfield. But Fuller made a perfect break and stole the ball from Crabtree for the interception.
And on the next play the Bears scored the go-ahead touchdown from three yards out.
Fuller’s second interception gave the Bears the ball with 9:08 remaining and a one-point lead. It came on a third-and-12, which could have been third-and-7 if not for a Joe Staley false start. Kaepernick left the pocket to his left, for no particular reason, causing Derek Carrier to break off his seam route and fade left with him. And by the time Kaepernick threw it, Fuller was there to undercut him after playing Crabtree by the sideline.
It was another nice play by Fuller, but Kaepernick made things difficult on himself by rolling left when it was unwarranted. Had he calmly stepped left, set his feet, he could have gotten more on the throw to and not allowed Fuller to get to it. On the right side, Boldin beat his man on a post route.
Turnovers aside, the 49ers made other mistakes that let the Bears come from 17 down to win. Just after Kaepernick’s fumble in the second quarter caused by Jared Allen, Cutler fumbled a snap that bounced towards Chicago’s goal line. Rookie linebacker Aaron tried the scoop-and-score, but didn’t come up with the ball cleanly and it was recovered by the Bears. Had it fallen on the ball it would have been first-and-goal.
Arguably the most important penalty of the game came on the Bears first drive of the second half, when on third-and-9 outside linebacker Corey Lemonier was flagged for hands to the face, after shoving his hand in left tackle Jermon Bushrod’s face mask, giving them an automatic first down. The initial pass was incomplete, but it kept Chicago’s drive alive that culminated in Brandon Marshall’s second touchdown pass, making it a 20-14 game instead of giving the 49ers the ball back with decent field position and a 14-point lead.
Pushing his hand into Bushrod’s face didn’t help Lemonier get to Cutler, which underscores a more important point about the early going of his second season. Lemonier has yet to register a QB pressure in 50 pass rushes, according to Pro Football Focus. Being that getting to the quarterback is his primary job while Aldon Smith has seven games remaining on his suspension, his lack of production has to be a concern. Lynch has been the 49ers top pass rusher at outside linebacker through two games, which could lead to leapfrogging Lemonier on the depth chart as soon as this week.
On the 49ers’ first possession in second half, with a chance to go up 24-7, they drove deep into the Bears territory. After a third-down conversion to Stevie Johnson to the 6-yard line, Roman dialed up three straight runs that netted zero yards, including a run to Frank Gore on third-and-6.
After the game, Harbaugh said there was a run/pass option before the snap. The Bears were in base while San Francisco had three receivers on the field with Johnson lined up in the left slot against a linebacker. It was a dubious sequence of play calling that could have altered the game significantly if the 49ers came away with a touchdown to go up 17. Instead, they settled for a 24-yard field goal to go up 20-7.
On the 49ers’ final drive, after Chicago had taken the 28-20 lead, Bears defensive end Willie Young beat right tackle Jonathan Martin for a pair of sacks. He gained leverage and went inside on the first, then beat Martin with a speed rush on the second. On the last set of downs, somehow, the 49ers had a delay of game on third-and-12, pushing them back to the 25. They got the yardage back on a check down, but still had a fourth-and-9 to deal with.
Chicago had that final play very well defended. However, Crabtree was open on the dig route at the goal line. But he made things difficult on himself by taking an awkward step that added depth to his route just as Kaepernick released the pass. It allowed Jennings a split-second to get underneath him and contest the catch.
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