What we learned as Fields, defense lead Bears to upset of 49ers originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
CHICAGO – Like Thanos, Justin Fields did it himself (with help from the defense and the undisciplined San Francisco 49ers defense).
The first half of Sunday’s game against the 49ers at Soldier Field looked a lot like what Fields endured during his rookie season under Matt Nagy. He completed just 3-of-9 passes for 19 yards and a pick while being sacked twice.
But Fields changed his tune in the second half, using his athleticism to escape pressure, extend plays, and create for the Bears’ offense. After falling down 10-0 in the third quarter, the Bears scored three straight touchdowns -- thanks to some costly defensive mistakes by the 49ers -- to take a 19-10 lead. The 49ers were penalized 12 times for 99 yards on the day.
The Bears’ defense did the rest, holding 49ers quarterback Trey Lance to 13 of 28 for 164 yards and an interception.
The Bears’ defense swarming and Fields being Fields in the second half was the recipe for opening the Matt Eberflus era with a 19-10 win at soggy Soldier Field.
Here’s what we learned as the Bears opened the season with an upset win over the 49ers.
It’s all on JF1
The offensive success the Bears’ enjoyed during their preseason finale was nowhere to be found early Sunday at Soldier Field.
Chicago’s offensive line struggled from the jump against the 49ers’ vaunted pass rush. Nick Bosa gave Braxton Jones and Larry Borom issues on both sides, while the interior didn’t fair much better.
As a result, the Bears could not open significant running lanes for David Montgomery and couldn’t protect Fields in traditional dropback scenarios.
In their first five possessions, the Bears managed just two first downs. Fields started 3-for-7 for 19 yards with an inexcusable pick where he threw into traffic while staring down Darnell Mooney. The Bears moved the ball a bit on their sixth possession (the final of the first half) but did so by utilizing Fields’ legs. The second-year quarterback had a few nifty runs to move the chains and help get the ball into 49ers’ territory.
But the Bears played it safe after crossing midfield, letting the clock wind down to play for a 47-yard field goal. Unfortunately, an illegal use of towel (not a joke) penalty on holder Trenton Gill moved them out of field-goal range and forced a fifth punt of the half.
Running back David Montgomery led the Bears in receptions during the first half with two receptions. No Bears receiver or tight end caught a ball in the first half. Fields only completed three passes.
But in the second half, Justin Fields looked like Justin Fields.
Fields electrified the crowd with a big play to open the third quarter. On third-and-10 from their own 49-yard line, Fields felt pressure and bounced out of the pocket to the left. The 49ers completely lost Dante Pettis in coverage, and Fields threw back across the field to the uncovered receiver for a 51-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing possession, Fields marched the Bears 84 yards in 10 plays (with the help of two 49ers penalties), hitting Equanimeous St. Brown for an 18-yard touchdown to give the Bears the lead. The play-action toss to St. Brown was a great design by offensive coordinator Luke Getsy to take advantage of a 49ers’ linebacking corps that had been suspect in pass coverage all day.
The Bears’ best offense was Fields’ athleticism and ability to escape pressure.
Given the Bears’ offensive line struggles and Fields’ elite athleticism, it would make sense for the Bears to get Fields out of the pocket more. In the second half, both by design and not, the Bears let Fields be Fields.
Fields finished the day going 8-for-17 for 121 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He also added 30 yards on the ground. It wasn’t the prettiest stat line, but what Fields did in the second half, mainly via improvisation, was the only reason the Bears’ offense found success.
Defense a H.I.T.S
While the offense sputtered Sunday, Eberflus and Alan Williams’ defense held up their end of the deal for the most part.
On the 49ers’ first possession of the game, the H.I.T.S principle came out when Jaylon Johnson punched the ball out of Deebo Samuel’s hands, and rookie Jaquan Brisker recovered.
With the Bears’ offense unable to flip the field, the defense eventually broke, giving up a 6-yard rushing touchdown to Samuel in the second quarter.
The 49ers came out of the locker room and scored on their first possession of the second half as a 44-yard pass from Trey Lance to Jauan Jennings got San Francisco into the red zone. But Dominique Robinson and Roquan Smith sacked Lance on third and goal to hold the 49ers to a field goal.
After the Bears took the lead in the fourth quarter, the defense helped put the game away. Facing a third-and-5 at their own 41, Lance dropped back and ripped a bullet toward Jennings. But safety Eddie Jackson stepped in front of the pass, picking it off and returning it to the 49ers’ 21. It was Jackson’s first interception since 2019.
The rain that came late in the fourth quarter helped the Bears contain the 49ers, but all credit should go to Eberflus, defensive coordinator Alan Williams, and the unit for keeping Lance in the pocket and making him beat them with his arm. Something he was not able to do Sunday in Chicago.
Rookies have up-and-down debut
On Sunday, the Bears had 11 rookies in uniform. Their NFL debuts came with mixed results.
Brisker, Gordon, and Robinson were everywhere on defense. Brisker got the fun going with a fumble recovery on the 49ers’ first possession. On the 49ers’ next possession, Robinson beat right tackle Mike McGlinchey and slung Lance down with one arm for his first career sack.
Brisker finished the game with four tackles (one for a loss), while Robinson notched 1.5 sacks in his debut.
Gordon got beat in coverage a few times, including that 44-yarder by Jennings. But the Washington product was around the ball (six tackles, one for a loss) and did a solid job setting the edge against the run.
On offense, left tackle Braxton Jones got a tough welcome to the NFL from Bosa, Ebukam, and the rest of the 49ers’ defensive line. Bosa beat him with his power and speed moves. After a stellar preseason, Jones looked like a rookie against Bosa and the 49ers.
Punter Trenton Gill had a good day with his leg but also had the costly unsportsmanlike towel penalty that cost the Bears three points. But overall, a good day for him as he averaged 46.2 yards per punt.
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