SAN FRANCISCO – As Bears players caught their breath during a first half timeout Monday, speakers atop Candlestick Park blasted The Who’s “Who Are You?”
It was a question that Bears defenders might have asked about Colin Kaepernick.
It was a question that Bears fans might be muttering today about their favorite team.
A feel-good season has taken a troubling turn for the Bears, who were badly outplayed on offense, defense and special teams in a 32-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Along with losing the game, the Bears (7-3) lost their grip on first place in the NFC North against the Green Bay Packers with a half-dozen games remaining in the regular season.
“We’re disappointed in this loss, but it does count as just one loss,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “We still have seven wins. We’re a 7-3 team right now. We have a big game coming up against Minnesota. We have to leave this game as quick as we possibly can.”
One could argue that the Bears never showed up in the first place.
The absence of injured quarterback Jay Cutler clearly hindered the Bears’ offense, which sputtered for 143 total yards and a touchdown with the score out of reach. And
while Jason Campbell was terrible in his first start for the Bears, the eighth-year veteran was not the main culprit for the Bears’ free fall in front of 69,732 rowdy fans clad in red and gold.
Instead, it was a leaky Bears’ defense that set the tone for a forgettable night.
In his NFL starting debut in place of injured teammate Alex Smith, Kaepernick dismantled the Bears’ vaunted defense for 27 unanswered points to start the game. He completed 4 of 5 passes for 45 yards on his first series, and he topped that by going 3 for 3 for 69 yards and a touchdown on the next drive. By the end of the blowout, the second-year player from Nevada had posted an eye-popping 133.1 passer rating (16 of 23, 243 yards, 2 TDs).
In a matchup that featured the league’s two stingiest defenses entering Week 11, the Bears allowed their highest point total of the season. Kelvin Hayden was beaten in coverage on one completion by Kaepernick, while Major Wright was beaten on another. Brian Urlacher whiffed on one tackle, while Tim Jennings whiffed on another.
A Bears defense that created history with its “rush and cover” mentality did neither against the 49ers (7-2-1). Kaepernick had plenty of time to survey the field starting with his first pass, in which he capitalized with a perfect 22-yard pass to Vernon Davis down the sideline.
Meanwhile, Campbell hardly resembled the reliable veteran whom the Bears paid $3.5 million to provide depth behind Cutler. He threw two interceptions and struggled to evade a persistent 49ers’ pass rush that notched six sacks, including five and a half by linebacker Aldon Smith.
All of which begs the question: Ten games into the season, who are the Bears?
Are they the team that raced to a 7-1 start thanks largely to wins against sub-.500 teams such as the St. Louis Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans? Or are they the team that has lost to playoff-caliber opponents such as the Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans and 49ers because of a woeful offensive line and a defense prone to giving up big plays?
Maybe the answer is both.
But for the Bears to reach the playoffs, they will have to be able to beat talented teams.
The next three weeks include two games against the Minnesota Vikings, who feature one of the league’s top running backs (Adrian Peterson) and a Pro Bowl pass rusher (Jared Allen). Surely, Peterson watched Monday as Gore averaged 4.6 yards a carry through the middle of the Bears’ defense, and Allen watched as Smith bull-rushed J’Marcus Webb again and again.
The Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers also will visit Soldier Field in the next month, and the Bears will travel to Arizona and Detroit for their final two games.
Each of those teams will study Monday’s game to see how the 49ers broke down the Bears.
It will be up to the Bears to push back.