By Sam McPherson
The key takeaway for the San Francisco 49ers in their 15-14 road win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday has to be the time of possession edge. The 49ers came into the Week 13 game ranked 31st out of 32 teams with just a 27:37 average in time of possession, but against the Bears, the S.F. offense held the ball for 38:47 in this matchup. The snowball effect from that one statistic was immense, even if it didn’t show up on the scoreboard.
All season long, the 49ers’ inability to keep its offense on the field was hurting the defense—and several chances to win close games. The defense would get tired in the fourth quarter, allowing the other team to score enough to win the game. That didn’t happen on Sunday in the Windy City, and the result was San Francisco’s second victory of the 2017 season.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start for the 49ers was a success, in that the offense gained 388 total yards and controlled the time of possession by converting 10 of 15 third-down opportunities. The S.F. offense put together five sustained scoring drives of at least seven plays and/or 58 yards, thanks to Garoppolo’s arm. This was the best offensive display of consistency since Week 3, really, when Brian Hoyer was still the QB.
The negatives were the struggles of the running game, the inability to convert inside in the red zone and the one interception. The Bears loaded up against the run to force Garoppolo to beat them, and he did, completing 26 of 37 attempts for 293 yards. The five field goals were enough to win, fortunately.
Overall, this was a great game for the offense, though and the 49ers won on the scoreboard. The small kinks can be worked out over the final four games of the season, but Garoppolo is the real deal for the S.F. organization.
Healthy and well-rested in this game, the 49ers defense held the Bears to just 147 total yards. You have to go back to Nov. 19, 2012 to find a better defensive effort from San Francisco. That was at Candlestick Park on Monday Night Football against Chicago, in fact. In this game, the Bears ran just 36 plays, and the 49ers held them to just 4.1 yards per play—including 62 yards on the ground and just 85 through the air.
Chicago’s rookie QB, Mitchell Trubisky, actually completed 12 of 15 attempts in the game, but five of his completions went to running backs, and the 49ers just didn’t give up a lot of ground. Other than the eight-play, 59-yard drive that netted the Bears a first-quarter touchdown, Chicago’s offense was a non factor in this game. San Francisco also sacked Trubisky twice, although the Bears did not turn the ball over.
Special Teams: C
Placekicker Robbie Gould made all five of FG attempts, although none was longer than 35 yards—which emphasizes how close the 49ers were to blowing out the Bears here. The punt coverage team gave up a 61-yard return for a touchdown to Tarik Cohen, which is the primary reason this game looked close on the scoreboard.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan finally gave Garoppolo the start, and it paid off tremendously on both sides of the ball. Perhaps the coach should have done this last week, but now that the change to a third starting QB this season has been made, Shanahan can focus on the personnel issues that plague the team in other places. Considering Garoppolo’s background with the New England organization, Shanahan should have trusted his QB a little more with the full playbook in this game, but trust can take time to build for a first-time head coach.
Up Next: Houston Texans
The 49ers take another road trip next week, this time to Houston. The Texans are 4-8 and have suffered season-ending injuries to their best player on each side of the ball this year. It’s certainly a winnable matchup for San Francisco, if the kind of game the team played this week is repeated and/or improved upon in seven days. With a more balanced offense, the 49ers should be able to move the ball on most teams, although Houston remains strong defensively despite the absence of J.J. Watt. With another week of practice, Garoppolo should get even better as the season progresses, and that snowballs through the whole roster in terms of improvement.