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‘Not our night’ doesn’t explain Bears’ frightening problems

Chicago Bears v San Francisco 49ers

Chicago Bears v San Francisco 49ers

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Updated: December 22, 2012 6:37AM



What, Lovie Smith worry?

‘‘It wasn’t our night,’’ the Bears coach said after a brutal 32-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on Monday night.

Smith accentuated the positive after the discouraging debacle on the Bay: the Bears still are 7-3 and still are tied for the lead in the NFC North. But after that dreadful performance, those two realities seem like a pair of crutches propping up a flawed team with an uncertain future.

When the final is Texans 13, Bears 6, it wasn’t your night. But when it’s Jim Harbaugh 32, Lovie Smith 7, you have bigger problems than getting Jay Cutler back or Brandon Marshall open. Almost from the start, the blowout loss was littered with red flags that Smith, offensive coordinator Mike Tice and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli should not be too quick to dismiss as a quirk of NFL competition.

To wit:

† Jason Campbell, with his 70 previous NFL starts, was no better than Caleb Hanie was last year as a replacement for Cutler — 14-for-22 for 107 yards, six sacks, one touchdown, two interceptions and a 52.7 passer rating.

How is it that Jacksonville Jaguars backup Chad Henne can come off the bench after not having taken a single snap in practice and — with the lowest-ranked offense in the NFL — torch the Houston Texans for 354 yards, four touchdowns and a 133.8 passer rating?

†After two solid running plays against the stout 49ers run defense produced four-yard gains, the Bears faced a third-and-two at their own 28. Only with this offense can a third-and-two with 9:15 left in the first quarter be a moment of truth. But it was — Campbell was sacked for a 10-yard loss, and the Bears’ offense was done for the night.

The following statistic should be a trivial oddity. With the Bears, it’s speaking louder each week: On their first pass attempt in 10 games this season, they have four sacks for 42 yards in losses, a fumble, an interception, two other incompletions, a two-yard reception (followed by a sack) and an 11-yard scramble by Cutler (followed by a sack).

How is it that 49ers backup Colin Kaepernick, who came into the game with zero NFL starts, can drop back on his first pass attempt and have Frank Gore chip Julius Peppers to get just enough time to throw a dart to Mario Manningham near the sideline for an eight-yard gain?

†Niners tight end Vernon Davis had six receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown. He came into the game with 29 catches for 404 yards and four TDs in nine games — 14th among tight ends in yards and 15th in receptions. In six games before Monday, Davis had 14 receptions for 214 yards and no touchdowns. If the Seattle Seahawks defend him (zero catches), why can’t the Bears?

†Marshall made a great catch in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown pass — with the Bears trailing 27-0.

As productive as Marshall has been, his tendency to produce best when the outcome is decided is coming into focus. (Six of his eight touchdowns have come with the Bears either up or down by 17 or more points.) Marshall dropped catchable touchdown passes in the end zone against the Green Bay Packers and Texans that would have made a difference. When it’s 27-0, he can catch a bullet in his teeth. He’s the best wide receiver in franchise history. But it looks like he might need help to play in the first postseason game of his seven-year NFL career.

The Bears are still 7-3 and still a contender — you can never underestimate the impact of parity. But the issues the Bears had against the 49ers are bigger than a bad day at the office.

Their problem is that they are a well-coached team that loses big games because they get outcoached. And you know what’s coming next: Smith’s steady hand will right the ship. If Cutler returns, the Bears will bounce back against the Vikings, Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions. But eventually the Bears are likely to run into Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers, Jim Harbaugh or Tom Coughlin. And the big question will be more clear than ever: Are Smith, Tice and Marinelli up to the challenge?



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