Thursday, December 8 2022

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFC West Writer

A solid start by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance devolved into a nightmarish finish in a steady downpour at Soldier Field on Sunday. 

The Niners had control of the game early but could not take advantage of good field position, building a 10-point lead at halftime that should have been much larger.

Then Lance’s counterpart, Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields, ignited his team’s rally in the second half, while Lance struggled in his first season-opening start. 

The Bears scored 19 unanswered points and held San Francisco scoreless in the second half. And a team many NFL observers believe should contend for the Super Bowl stumbled on the road to the rebuilding Bears 19-10.

Justin Fields propels Bears’ gritty victory vs. 49ers

After falling behind 10-0 against the 49ers, Justin Fields threw two impressive TD passes to lead the Bears to a 19-10 victory.

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan had a simple plan to protect his new starting quarterback: Run the football. In sloppy field conditions, Shanahan used a diversity of runs to keep Chicago’s defense on its heels. The Niners totaled 176 yards on the ground, with Lance leading the team in rushing with 54 yards on 13 carries. 

But on the first three drives of the game, San Francisco’s worst field position was its own 36-yard line, and the Niners still could not convert that into points.

Lance finished the game 13 of 28 (46%) for 164 passing yards, with no touchdowns and an interception. Deebo Samuel also fumbled in the red zone on San Francisco’s opening drive. 

The North Dakota State product’s lone turnover was a dagger. With 9:52 left in the game and Chicago clinging to a 13-10 lead, Lance tried to fit a ball into a tight window to Jauan Jennings on an in route near midfield. However, Chicago safety Eddie Jackson baited Lance into the throw, then jumped the route for the interception.

Fields and the Bears turned that Lance miscue into points five plays later on a two-yard run by Khalil Herbert. The Niners could not get past midfield on the final two drives of the game.

“I made too many mistakes,” Lance said. “The defense kept us in the game. I had a big miss to Tyler Kroft in the end zone. I tried to throw a perfect ball, and I should have just put it on him. He was wide open. I turned the ball over. I took a sack that knocked us out of field-goal range. I shouldn’t have missed Deebo on third down. I missed another third down to Jauan.

“Just too many mistakes. A lot of things to clean up for sure, for me. But I’m excited. I’ve still got my head up, and I’m excited to get ready to go next week.”

Lance wasn’t helped by inclement weather conditions in the Windy City. Playmaking tight end George Kittle also did not play due to a groin injury. And the Niners totaled a head-scratching 12 accepted penalties for 99 yards, including two personal foul penalties for hitting Fields late while he was sliding.

“We knew he was going to slide late, and we hit him I think twice on third down — our opportunities to get off the field,” San Francisco edge rusher Nick Bosa said. “That’s 15 yards for a team that can’t move the ball. It’s huge. We’ve got to be smarter.” 

Lance’s uneven performance will do nothing to quiet the calls for veteran starter Jimmy Garoppolo to eventually replace him at quarterback, with San Francisco built to win a Super Bowl.

Per FOX Sports Insider Jay Glazer, the Niners have a 15-player leadership committee to help quiet the noise in the locker room, throwing its full support behind the development of Lance.

Offensive co-captain tackle Trent Williams was impressed with how Lance handled himself during the postgame press conference.

“This is why they handed him the keys to the organization,” Williams said. “He’s a mature dude. He’s a great teammate. That doesn’t surprise us. It’s why he’s here.” 

Still, it will be hard for the Niners to not turn to the well-liked Garoppolo at some point if the losses begin to pile up for San Francisco. 

Five of the 49ers’ first six games are against teams that did not make the playoffs last season. And they already lost one of those to the Bears. 

“We expect to go into games and win, no matter who it is,” Shanahan said. “We usually always feel that way, throughout the week preparing. But we’ve got to play a lot better and do things right a lot longer than what we did today.” 

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.


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