8:30 PM EST, NBC – Line: San Francisco -7
After a shocking opening weekend to the 2014 NFL regular season, it’s time for some teams to build momentum while others are left to pick up the pieces, which is precisely where the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers find themselves. Many so called “experts” were calling for San Francisco (1-0) to be upset on the road at Dallas, where they came limping in without a number of players, particularly All-Pro Linebackers Aldon Smith and Navorro Bowman. Coupled with an offseason mired by controversy, the Niners had the look of a team ripe to be upset. In the words of Lee Corso, “not so fast, my friends” for reality set in very quickly as Jim Harbaugh’s club made quick work of the Cowboys. In last Sunday’s 28-17 victory, the visitors feasted on a plethora of turnovers; less than a minute into the contest, Cornerback Chris Culliver scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown, the first of four takeaways on the day. At one point in the game, San Francisco’s vaunted defense intercepted Dallas Quarterback Tony Romo on three consecutive possessions.
In other words, it was business as usual for the 49ers, who looked no worse for wear throughout Sunday’s victory. Aside from the quartet of turnovers, the defense accounted for three sacks, as they harassed Romo for sixty minutes. Dallas did rack up 382 yards of total offense, but the majority of that figure was amassed during the second half, where the the Niners clearly pulled their foot up off the gas pedal. It was a tremendous sign for a team that has been riddled by injuries and suspensions of late; Glenn Dorsey (bicep) and the aforementioned Bowman (knee) both missed the contest with various injuries, while Smith began serving an eight-game suspension for a litany of offenses committed over the past eighteen months. Some familiar faces proceeded to pick up the slack, as veteran Defensive End Justin Smith led the way with a pair of sacks and four tackles, while Linebacker Patrick Willis filled the stat-sheet with six tackles, a pick, and a deflected pass. Defensive Backs Eric Reid and Parrish Cox also record an interception, while Dan Skuta forced the fumble that started the takeaway frenzy.
Offensively, San Francisco was coldly efficient, taking advantage of the short fields provided by the turnovers en route to a balanced 319 yards, including 192 via the pass and another 127 via the rush. Speaking of the rush, Harbaugh may have found himself a new toy to play with; rookie Tailback Carlos Hyde continued to build on a solid preseason, with 50 yards and a score on just seven carries, while veteran mainstay Frank Gore led the team with 66 yards on 16 attempts. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick simply managed the game, completing 16-of-23 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns, both of which went to Tight End Vernon Davis. Anquan Boldin reeled in eight receptions for 99 yards, while new acquisition Stevie Johnson caught a pair for 33 yards in 49ers’ debut. With Sunday’s win, Kaepernick advanced to 18-6 as a starter, and tonight’s contest should bring some fond memories. Back on November 19th, 2012, Kaepernick made his debut in a 32-7 beatdown of the Bears, torching their declining defense on 16-of-23 passing for 243 yards and two touchdowns. With that win, the Niners have now amassed a seven-game winning streak at home versus the Bears, with an average margin of victory of 27.6 points.
Meanwhile, sound the alarm throughout the Windy City, for their beloved Bears (0-1) have picked up where they left off a year ago, and that is far from a good thing. The same ills that afflicted them in 2013 have returned, as Quarterback Jay Cutler continues to make head-scratching mistakes, while the defense continues it’s precipitous decline towards mediocrity. Sunday’s 23-20 overtime loss at home to the Bills served as an accurate summation of their plight; despite accumulating a healthy 29 first downs and 427 yards, the hosts committed three turnovers, while allowing 360 yards. Granted, injuries occurred early, clearly altering Marc Trestman’s gameplan, as interior Offensive Linemen Roberto Garza (ankle) and Matt Slauson (ankle) exited quickly, while rangy Wideout Alshon Jeffery was lost in the second quarter. With both linemen out, what was a strength quickly became a weakness, as Chicago simply couldn’t manage to rush the ball consistently against the Bills’ stout defensive front. As a team, the Bears rushed for just 86 yards on 18 attempts, with Pro Bowl Tailback Matt Forte accounting for all but one carry on his way to 82 yards.
As he tends to to, Forte also factored heavily into the passing game, as Cutler looked for him more and more frequently once Jeffery and later Brandon Marshall left due to injury. With another 87 yards on eight receptions, Forte ran his total yards from scrimmage to a mighty healthy 169 yards, though he failed to find the end zone. Speaking of Cutler, Sunday’s performance pretty much encapsulates the oft-criticized Quarterback; the nine-year veteran completed 34-of-49 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns, but two interceptions as well. He has the capacity to amaze one play, but make you throw your shoe at the television the next, which is why often draws so much angst form Bears’ fans. Case in point; with the game tied midway through the fourth quarter, Cutler threw a mind-numbing interception across his body and into the surprisingly capable arms of Bills’ Defensive Tackle Kyle Williams. After Robbie Gould eventually sent the game into overtime with a 37-yard field goal, Cutler could do little with the ball despite receiving the ball to start the extra period. Forte opened the final drive with an inspiring 13-yard run out their own 33-yard line, but Cutler proceeded to whiff on each of his next three pass attempts leading to a punt. It was the last time he and his cohorts on offense would see the ball.
But hey, there is plenty of blame to go around, and a great deal should be laid on the shoulders of the defense, which was in a word offensive. With the additions of Defensive Linemen Jared Allen, Willie Young, and Lamarr Houston, Chicago was supposed to improve upon a defense that ranked thirtieth in both points allowed (29.9) and yards allowed (394.5), and dead-last against the run (161.4) and yards per carry (5.3). However, that optimism faded rather quickly as Trestman’s defense proceeded to get trampled by the Bills to the tune of 193 yards on 33 carries for a robust 5.8 yards per carry. Whether it was C.J. Spiller or Fred Jackson, it didn’t matter, as the former carried the rock fifteen times for 53 yards, while the latter racked up 61 on a mere seven attempts. Hell, even Anthony Dixon joined the party with 60 yards on just five carries. Ladies and gentlemen, those numbers are alarming. Perhaps just as alarming was the Bears’ inability to stop E.J. Manuel and Buffalo’s passing game, particularly int he second half and overtime. The Sophomore Quarterback completed 16-of-22 passes for 173 yards and a score, while rushing for another. He was sacked just once, and apart from a Chris Conte interception in the third quarter, looked unfazed from the hosts’ (lack thereof) pressure. Finally, in overtime, when the visitors received the ball back, Manuel completed a crucial 20-yard pass out to the Chicago 44-yard line, leading to a 38-yard Jackson run, ultimately culminating in a 5-yard Dan Carpenter field goal that ended a very very disappointing opening to the season.