49ers offense falls flat, suffers key injuries in Week 16 loss to Bears

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 23: Nick Mullens #4 of the San Francisco 49ers is hit has he throws by Akiem Hicks #96 of the Chicago Bears during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 23: Nick Mullens #4 of the San Francisco 49ers is hit has he throws by Akiem Hicks #96 of the Chicago Bears during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers’ brief two-game win streak came to a close in Week 16, as the Niners fell 14-9 against a defensively stout Chicago Bears squad at Levi’s Stadium.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens had a chance to extend his team’s chances late in the fourth quarter in Week 16 and potentially take the lead over the playoff-bound Chicago Bears.

Facing a 4th-and-4 from Chicago’s 45-yard line and with just over a minute left in the fourth quarter, Mullens had a chance to scramble for what could have been a substantial gain and at least a first-down pickup. Instead, at the last minute, Mullens unleashed a deep pass intended for wide receiver Marquise Goodwin.

It sailed over Goodwin’s head, though, and the Niners turned the ball over on downs. The Bears subsequently ran out the clock and walked away with the low-scoring 14-9 win at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday.

“I should have ran,” Mullens told the media after the game. “I didn’t run. In the heat of battle, a lot of things are happening fast, split-second decisions. Saw ‘Quise down the field, tried to give him a chance, instead of making the simple play. I didn’t make the simple play.”

That was just one of a number of key mistakes the 49ers made against an 11-4 Bears team that held head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense to just 15 first downs on the day.

Mullens finished going 22-of-38 for 241 yards, zero touchdowns and an interception — a ball that bounced off the hands of Goodwin and into the arms of Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan. Mullens was forced to throw so much on the day largely due to running back Matt Breida suffering an ankle injury, which forced him out of the game, and the Niners being contained on the ground to the tune of just 47 yards and a mere 3.1 yards per carry.

Additionally, wide receiver Dante Pettis went down with a knee injury. Shanahan later revealed to reporters it was an MCL injury and not the feared ACL tear.

Still, it would be doubtful Pettis returns for San Francisco’s regular-season finale in Los Angeles against the Rams next week.

Shanahan and Co. had to settle for three field goals from veteran kicker Robbie Gould, who was perfect on each of his attempts. The problem, though, was Chicago managed to get into the end zone twice during the game. First, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky found wide receiver Anthony Miller for a 4-yard touchdown to take a 7-6 lead in the second quarter. Miller beat cornerback Tarvarius Moore, who got the start over an injured Ahkello Witherspoon.

In the third quarter, following a 12-play, 90-yard drive that saw Trubisky go a perfect 7-of-7, Bears running back Jordan Howard found the end zone on a 2-yard rush up the middle.

That would be all the scoring Chicago needed, as its defense clamped down on an injury-riddled 49ers offense that struggled to move the ball most of the day, averaging just 5.2 yards per play.

“That’s a real good team,” Shanahan told reporters after the game. “I was happy and proud with how hard our guys fought in all three phases. They are a playoff team definitely, but every week in the NFL, teams are heard to beat.”

Had the Niners won, it would have been on the shoulders of their defense, which held Chicago to 325 all-purpose yards and a slightly better 5.4 yards-per-play average.

After entering the contest with a league-worst five defensive turnovers generated, the 49ers managed to capitalize on two Bears fumbles — one by Trubisky and the other by wide receiver Allen Robinson, who could have gone down after making a key fourth-quarter first-down catch that would have iced the clock with zero timeouts left for San Francisco. Instead, he kept running and let Moore knock the ball loose. Defensive back Greg Mabin recovered, giving the 49ers a chance at a final offensive possession.

Meanwhile, EDGE Cassius Marsh recorded two sacks and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner added another.

The Melee over Marcell Harris’ Late Hit

On the drive before Robinson’s fumble, safety Marcell Harris hit Trubisky on a scramble near the Bears sideline after the quarterback slid to avoid contact. Harris was immediately surrounded by Bears players, and there was quite the scrum that followed on the sideline.

Cornerback Richard Sherman came to Harris’ aid, later defending his actions supporting his teammate, which can be viewed below:

Sherman was ejected, along with the Bears’ Miller and Josh Bellamy.

“I wasn’t going out for him,” Harris later said. “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.”

While it didn’t affect the outcome of the game, per se, the altercation delayed game play for nearly 10 minutes as officials sorted out offsetting penalties and ejections.

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Now at 4-11, the Niners will look to continue the upset role for their final game of 2018 against another playoff-bound squad, the Rams.