Coming off a thrilling, last-second loss to Miami, the 49ers looked liked they had momentum as they headed to Chicago, but instead of a win they found drama and failure.
If last year’s road loss to the Cardinals felt like the low point of Tomsula’s tenure, today was the low point of 2016. You would think a 1-10 team wouldn’t need help staying grounded, but the elements and idiotic penalties brought the team back to Earth in an embarrassing fashion.
A week after Kaepernick threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns against a tough Miami secondary, the 49ers managed one completion on two attempts in the first half. It would be Kaepernick’s lone completion, finishing 1-of-5 for 4 yards. In the 4th quarter, Chip Kelly made the decision to change not only his play-calling but also his quarterback, bringing in Blaine Gabbert to provide a spark. Given more opportunites to throw the ball, Gabbert was 4-of-10 for 35 yards while giving up a safety. When Blaine Gabbert is your spark, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
Lost in the drama following Kaepernick’s benching is the defense. Jim O’Neil’s defense has been historically bad, but they seemed unable to reach even the low bar they’ve set for themselves throughout the season. After a slow start, Matt Barkley ended the day 11-of-18 for 192 yards in what should have been crippling snow. To put this in perspective, roughly 20% of Barkley’s career passing yards were generously given to him by the San Francisco 49ers in terrible conditions today.
The box score is enough to make anyone weep, but the most infuriating stat is the penalties. The 49ers showed a complete lack of discipline throughout the game, stalling drive-after-drive early and leaving points on the field. The brightest moment of the game, a blocked punt by Shaun Draughn that would have given the 49ers the ball on the Bears’ 4 yard line, was pushed back 15 yards for excessive celebration. The punt return unit thought they had scored a touchdown on the play, but couldn’t stop making snow angels for long enough to see the refs spotting the ball. The 49ers ended the game with 11 penalties - 6 more penalties than completions.
There are four games left on the schedule, and the next week will be full of article-after-article calling for firings, speculation on the quarterback position, and the deepest malaise of the 2016 season. Don’t feel bad if you have to look away until next year, because when you stare into the 49ers’s 2016 season, it stares back into you.