Santa Clara, CA – A melee, three ejections and a defensive battle is how the 49ers ended their season at Levi’s stadium. The Chicago Bears came into this game as a favorite, but San Francisco gave them a challenge until the very end.
The 49ers ended their final home game with a 14-9 loss. With one game left in the season and the countless injuries, San Francisco has nothing to feel bad about. They got better toward the end of the season despite the injuries to many key players.
“I think we’ve had a lot more continuity the last month and guys have stayed healthier,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan. “We’ve been a little bit more consistent with the guys who have been out there. We’ve been playing with the same two inside linebackers, the same safeties, for the most part, the corners. They’ve played well. They’ve gotten better as it’s gone, and it was nice to get some turnovers today.”
Today the team lost Matt Breida, Dante Pettis, Garrett Celek and Marquise Goodwin had an Achilles injury at the end of the game. Breida left the game with an ankle injury to start the second and did not return. Pettis injured his knee and Celek left the game with a head injury. Pettis needed help off the field after he was tackled by both Leonard Floyd and Prince Amukamara.
Late in the fourth, things got testy after Marcell Harris used his body to hit Mitchell Trubisky as he was sliding on a scramble near Chicago’s sideline. Chaos erupted which quickly turned into a melee. Three players were ejected, 49ers’ Richard Sherman, Bears’ Anthony Miller and Joshua Bellamy.
Bellamy explained what happened:
Harris explained his hit on Trubisky that led to the skirmish in the fourth.
“Definitely. I wasn’t going out for him. I knew what comes with penalties, and I wasn’t trying to give my team a big penalty in that moment of the game. Obviously, you can see what happened. I felt like I laid up on him.”
On fourth and one, Chicago used Trubisky to scramble for 1-yard and he got the first down. At the two-minute warning, the Bears were in control. Trubisky connected with Allen Robinson II but Tarvarius Moore snuck up behind and punched the ball out of Robinson’s hands. That led to another turnover and it became San Francisco’s ball.
“Sometimes the ball is not in our favor, but today one of the biggest things was getting turnovers,” said Harris. We went for the ball, ripping it out and trying to get picks. We had a lot of balls that were actually on the ground and a lot of balls that were on our hands that we could have challenged the game on, but we came out and did a great job as a defense.”
Nick Mullens and his offense took over after Chicago’s fumble with 1:52 left to play. After two incomplete passes, Mullens went deep with a pass, rather than scrambling for the first down on fourth-and-four – a terrible decision, especially since there was enough time on the clock.
“Yeah, it was fourth-and-four,” Mullens explained. “I mean, I’ve just got to handle the situation better. I should have ran. I didn’t run. In the heat of battle, a lot of things are happening fast, split-second decisions. Saw [WR Marquise Goodwin] ‘Quise down the field. Tried to give him a chance, instead of making the simple play. I didn’t make the simple play.”
There’s no doubt the 49ers’ defense got better over the last three weeks. They’ve been able to contain playoff caliber teams, including the playoff bound Bears, but they couldn’t capitalize off the turnovers with a smothering Chicago defense that highlights Khalil Mack.
Mack returned to the Bay Area for the first time since his explosive trade from the Oakland Raiders, the only team he’s known since his rookie year, Mack continues to dominate on defense. He will be heading to the playoffs for the first time in his career, as the Bears clinched the NFC North last week. The closest he’s gotten was the Wild Card game in 2016, but the Raiders lost 27-14 to the Houston Texans.
Mack on his return to the Bay Area:
The 49ers’ kicker, Robbie Gould, kicked three field goals for 33, 30 and 23 yards, leading in the first half. San Francisco did a great job of keeping Chicago off the board until late in the second. At the two-minute warning, a few penalties helped the Bears with good field position. That setup Trubisky’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Miller giving the Bears a 7-6 lead.
Mullens reacted quickly and found Goodwin for 17 yards, Trent Taylor for 23 yards and Kendrick Bourne for 8 yards before stopping the clock. Opting for another field goal instead, Gould kicked a 23-yard field goal 23 yards to end the half with the 9-7 lead.
By the third, the 49ers kept forcing Chicago to turn over the ball. But a face mask penalty on DeForrest Buckner gave the Bears a first down and set up Jordan Howard’s rushing 4-yard touchdown, making it a 14-9 game. Then Mullens’ pass, intended for Goodwin, was intercepted by Danny Trevathan.
“I am never happy about losing,” said Joe Staley. “I am happy about there is no quit in this locker room. It is very easy when you are not competing for a playoff spot or anything for guys in the locker room to be like ‘just mail it in and look forward to the offseason’. I think everybody feels what we are building here is going to be special. I think a lot of guys believe in what we are doing in the front office. We love coming into work every single day. We are really going to give our best effort and going down the stretch. I think we surprised the Seahawks that way last week, and I think they thought we were going to be whatever. I think that we did that same thing today. Obviously, we wanted to come up with a couple more big plays and thought we were going to come away with a victory in the end.”