Grossman looks to rebound from the worst performance of his career when the Bears (6-0) take on the San Francisco 49ers (2-4) and one of the league’s worst defenses Sunday at Soldier Field.
Grossman’s emergence this season has Chicago looking like the team to beat in the NFC so far, but the fourth-year quarterback ran into serious trouble Oct. 16 against Arizona. The Bears came into the Monday night contest averaging an NFL-best 31.2 points per game, but Grossman threw four interceptions and lost two fumbles, finishing 14-for-37 for 144 yards.
Amazingly, the Bears prevailed despite the six turnovers by their quarterback, rallying from 20 points down at halftime to win 24-23. Chicago returned two fumbles for touchdowns in the second half, and Devin Hester brought back a punt 83 yards for a score with 2:58 remaining to take the lead.
The Cardinals’ Neal Rackers missed a 41-yard field-goal attempt with 53 seconds left to give the Bears the victory.
“It wasn’t much fun, but it was something I can learn from and hopefully never do again,” Grossman said. “It was a good (game) film to watch to get better and hopefully I don’t make some of those mistakes. But it was a good lesson.”
Bears quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, for one, isn’t concerned that Grossman will have trouble bouncing back this week.
“He’s always handled adversity extremely well. He’s fortunate in that he made a bunch of errors but we got the win out of the deal, so it’s a good learning experience, and I think that’s the vein that he’s taken it in,” Wilson said.
The poor performance by Chicago’s offense—nine first downs, 168 total yards and no touchdowns—was a testament to just how dominant the defense has been. Linebacker Brian Urlacher had a career-high 19 tackles—11 solo—and a forced fumbled that Charles Tillman returned for a TD for the Bears, who are allowing 9.8 points and 267.7 yards per game. Both marks are second in the NFL.
Chicago’s defense has allowed five touchdowns and forced 17 turnovers, and Arizona’s two touchdowns and 23 points were single-game highs for the Bears this season.
The defense, though, suffered a blow when starting safety Mike Brown underwent surgery Oct. 18 to repair ligament damage to his right foot. Brown, whose return of a fumble for a score began the Bears’ comeback against the Cardinals, was injured in a pileup.
“There’s only one Mike Brown that has those qualities as a leader,” coach Lovie Smith said. “What we need is to have a good football player step up and fill the role. Brian Urlacher, Adewale (Ogunleye), Alex Brown—they’ll take more of a leadership role.”
Ogunleye is listed as questionable for Sunday because of a hamstring injury.
The Bears, looking to win their first seven games for the first time since their Super Bowl season of 1985, will be facing a 49ers team that was blown out 48-19 by San Diego two weeks ago. San Francisco also had a bye last week, giving coach Mike Nolan and his staff extra time to figure out how to fix a defense that is giving up a league-worst 32.3 points per game and 376.3 yards of offense per contest—fourth-worst in the NFL.
The 49ers allowed 421 yards of offense against the Chargers.
“The problems on defense are collective,” said Nolan, whose team’s four losses have come by an average of 22.8 points. “That falls on the coaches’ and the players’ shoulders. We need to do a better job of putting our guys in situations that will help them, but we also need to make some plays when we’re there.”
The Niners weren’t able to do that last year either, yielding 428 points and a franchise-record 6,250 yards while finishing last in the NFL in pass defense and total defense. The departure of linebackers Julian Peterson and Andre Carter via free agency during the past offseason didn’t help.
“We lost a couple of players who aren’t bad players, but that’s part of the growing pains in getting it corrected,” Nolan said. “I’d like to think that, in the future, that won’t be the case. We’ll be able to take care of our people before it gets to free agency.”
The continuing problems on defense have made any offensive progress negligible. Second-year quarterback Alex Smith has shown improvement this season, completing 59.6 percent of his passes and throwing eight touchdowns against four interceptions, but San Francisco’s opponents are averaging more than 32 points per game.
Smith went 20-of-31 for 217 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against San Diego.
“We can move the ball against anybody,” said 49ers leading rusher Frank Gore, who’s run for 520 yards but hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 2. “We’ve got Alex, good receivers, a good offensive line and a running game.”
Gore rushed for 55 yards on a season-low 10 carries against the Chargers.
The Bears have won five straight meetings with the 49ers at Soldier Field, including a 17-9 victory Nov. 13.
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