We hand out five game balls to the San Francisco 49ers from the Niners’ 14-9 loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 16 of the 2018 NFL regular season.
On Monday’s Locked On 49ers Podcast, host Brian Peacock provided a rundown of the Niners’ game — including game notes and key takeaways — and handed out five game balls from the San Francisco 49ers’ one-score loss to the playoff-bound Chicago Bears.
San Francisco’s two-game winning streak came to an end in Week 16 at the hands of the Chicago Bears and their top-ranked defense, led by former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Despite the two team’s dissimilar records — the Niners now sit at 4-11, while the NFC North champion Bears have recorded 11 wins in 2018 — San Francisco was in place to pull off a potential upset in the game’s closing minutes. Unfortunately, 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens ended the team’s final drive, and the Niners’ chances of victory, when the youngster threw a hail-mary pass out-of-bounds instead of using his feet to easily convert a fourth-down try.
While Mullens’ late mistake was inexcusable, the first-year QB hung tough against Chicago’s ferocious defense for much of Sunday’s contest. The 49ers had their fair share of scoring opportunities throughout the game, but 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s lack of killer instinct and passive play-calling helped keep the team from getting the ball into the end zone. Even with an offense playing “not to lose,” San Francisco stayed in the game thanks to an inexperienced but intense defensive unit that held the Bears to just two scores on the day:
49ers DT DeForest Buckner
49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner continued to play like a Pro-Bowler on Sunday, as the third-year interior lineman added to his team-high sack total, which currently stands at 12 on the season. Buckner also leads the Niners’ defense in quarterback hits and tackles for loss by wide margins.
Buckner is the engine that makes San Francisco’s defense run, which was evidenced by a key turnover on Sunday. Buckner immediately broke into the Bears’ backfield at the snap, which ruined the timing of the play and forced QB Mitchell Trubisky to throw on the run as he tried to sprint away. When the quarterback’s errant backward pass hit the ground, the high-motor defender then ran across the field to recover the fumble. Over the course of the 2018 season, Buckner has arrived as one of the top defensive players in the NFL:
49ers LB Elijah Lee
Even after two injury-ridden seasons, it still took a painful Week 13 performance by WILL linebacker Malcolm Smith for the 49ers coaching staff to admit that the expensive veteran is a poor fit in San Francisco’s defensive scheme. Even given his propensity to miss tackles, Smith has potential as a run defender, but his deficiencies in coverage finally became too much for the team to overlook:
— Chris Wilson (@cgawilson) December 2, 2018
After flashing as a backup over much of the 2018 season, linebacker Elijah Lee was given Smith’s starting job in Week 14. Like many of the 49ers’ young defenders, the second-year LB has been far from perfect in recent weeks. However, Lee played one of his best games at the professional level in his fourth career start on Sunday. With a game-high 11 tackles against the Bears, Lee now ranks third on the team in total tackles this season, despite his relative lack of playing time. The young linebacker hasn’t secured a starting role in 2019, but he has proven to be a key backup piece with starting potential going forward:
49ers CB Tarvarius Moore
When the 49ers gave rookie cornerback Tarvarius Moore his first NFL start on Sunday, the team’s coaching staff knew it would be trial-by-fire for the former college safety. After playing mostly on special teams or as a box safety in the San Francisco’s“Dollar” 3-2-6 personnel package, Moore saw his first extensive action at cornerback in Week 15 after fellow corner Ahkello Witherspoon was lost for the season due to injury.
Moore’s first challenge as a starter was a difficult one, as the defensive back was forced to line up across from top wide receiver Allen Robinson. Moore’s lack of experience at his new position was evident throughout the matchup, but the youngster never gave up, learned from his mistakes and provided value where he could as a defender. And although Robinson was the matchup’s victor for most of the day, Moore got the best of the veteran wideout by forcing a fumble on what should have been a game-ending reception:
49ers K Robbie Gould
Shanahan and the 49ers continue to rely on Robbie Gould — to a fault — and the veteran kicker continues to deliver. Gould was perfect on all three of his field goal attempts on Sunday, and provided San Francisco with all nine of their points in the Week 16 contest against the kicker’s former squad:
49ers CB Richard Sherman
The 49ers’ top cornerback Richard Sherman didn’t do much on the field on Sunday; his biggest play came on the sideline after the whistle was blown. Late in the fourth quarter, Sherman came to the defense of a young member of the 49ers’ secondary — rookie safety Marcell Harris — after the defender found himself in a precarious situation on the Bears’ sideline.
Harris flew up from deep in the secondary to make a play on Trubisky on a third-down run, but the overzealous safety failed to pull up and miss the quarterback after he slid to the ground, which immediately drew a flag and the justifiable ire of Trubisky’s teammates on the field. But as Harris got up to head back to the huddle, he was attacked by a number of Bears’ players on Chicago’s bench.
While his teammates quickly pulled Harris away from the Bears’ sideline, Sherman sprinted into the middle of the scrum and traded blows with a few of the offending players. After an extremely lengthy meeting by the officials, Sherman and a pair of Chicago wide receivers were ejected from the game.
Just a few short months ago, no one could have imagined such a scene — but there’s no question where Sherman’s loyalties now lie:
Listen to Locked On 49ers host Brian Peacock’s review of the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 16 loss to the Chicago Bears — including game notes and key takeaways from the Niners’ loss — on Monday’s Rapid React podcast:
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