By Nate Johnson
With the opportunity to balance their season at 6-6, the Bears came up short once again, losing to the San Francisco 49ers 26-20 on Sunday. After taking a late lead on a Ka’Deem Carey touchdown, Chicago was unable to make it hold up, allowing the 49ers to tie the game with less than two minutes left and walk away with the win on a 71-yard bomb to start their second possession of overtime.
The Bears had the opportunity to win in regulation thanks to a huge 74-yard kickoff return by Deonte Thompson. The scoring threat was quelled, however, as kicker Robbie Gould missed what would have been a game-winning field goal from 36 yards out. Gould suffered through another out-of-character performance, missing two field goals in a game for the second time this season after having done that only twice in his career before this season.
A first-quarter interception by Jay Cutler cost the Bears as well. After building a 6-0 lead with field goals on their first two possessions, Cutler was picked off by former NIU standout Jimmie Ward, who returned the takeaway 29 yards for a score.
One positive for the offense was the play of the running backs. Continuing to work Matt Forte back into the rotation and welcoming back Carey after missing the previous week’s win in Green Bay due to a concussion, the team was able to compile 170 total yards on the ground and both Forte and Carey found the end zone.
“In every game there’s good and bad,” right tackle Kyle Long told chicagobears.com. “The ones that the bad outweighs the good are the ones obviously you end up on the lower end of things. It’s a tough pill to swallow; just a weird feeling after that game.”
Allowing the 49ers to win in Chicago for the first time since 1974 was most likely the final nail in the coffin for any postseason hopes on the part of the Bears. While the December 20 trip to Minnesota is the only daunting matchup remaining on the schedule, running the table would leave the Bears 9-7 and most likely on the outside looking in on the playoffs.
“In my experience in this league, it’s either a carnival after you win or it’s a crisis after you lose,” head coach John Fox told reporters Monday. “It’s just the nature of what we do. These guys are professionals; they understand that we still have a full quarter left of the season.
“The worst you can you finish is 5-11, the best you can finish is 9-7, and those sound completely different, so that’s in front of you.”
With the Bears all but eliminated from playoff contention, the focus now turns to building a platform for 2016.
“Obviously that’s the ultimate goal, to get to the dance,” Long said. “But for us, personally, this is about pride. You could go down the entire line of our roster and they’d all echo the same thing and I know they’d mean it because I’ve seen these guys. I’ve seen the preparation they’ve put in, the hard work, the long hours.”
Prior to the visit to the Vikings, the Bears will welcome the Washington Redskins this Sunday at noon. The Redskins, coming off a wild last-minute loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night, sport an identical 5-7 record but manage to sit atop their division, sharing first place in the NFC East with Philadelphia and New York.
One Bear who won’t be on the field against Washington is the team’s leading pass-catcher. Tight end Martellus Bennett. Bennett was placed on injured reserve Tuesday after aggravating a rib injury initially suffered in the team’s loss to Denver two weeks earlier.
Chicago signed free agent tight end Rob Housler to replace Bennett on the active roster. Housler has made 61 appearances over five NFL season, his last with the Browns earlier in 2015.