Crumbling in the Clutch
October 30, 2001 at 12:00 AM
Some games, you just have to walk away and allow the football gods to have their way.
How else to explain Shane Matthews, the Bears backup quarterback, destroying the 49ers? How on earth do you explain blowing a 28-9 lead to a Bears team with a very mediocre offense? How do you explain 29 first downs? Eleven in the fourth quarter? Steve Mariucci can complain all he wants about how Anthony Thomas’ knee might have been down before he crossed the goal line on the two-point conversion, but the 49ers had already failed by that point. The damage had been done.
I had feared for weeks that the Bears would win – but with a 17-14 kind of game. Once the 49ers took a nineteen-point lead, there is no way you should blow it against an offense like the Bears. But it happened.
Perhaps we have to come to grips with the fact that all the preseason talk about our defense not being ready is true. The Bears offense has not been very good, and they absolutely shredded our defense down the stretch. People will quickly point to the fact that Jason Webster’s injury forced Anthony Parker and Rashad Holman into the lineup. And yes, the Bears did take advantage of that. But the main problem with the 49ers right now is the pass rush. The Bears dropped back to pass 47 times and the 49ers had zero sacks. In fact, I can’t even think of a time when Shane Matthews looked hurried. The 49ers could trade for Charles Woodson and Champ Bailey and they still would be giving up pass plays with all the time opposing quarterbacks have to throw.
Neither Andre Carter nor John Engelberger are placing any pressure on the quarterback. Bryant Young is facing is daily double teams, and is not fighting through them the way he did three years ago. And where is Julian Peterson? He has been a total non-factor on the pass rush.
For three quarters, however, the pathetic pass rush didn’t seem to hinder 49ers. This was a tough test for the 49ers: on the road, in harsh conditions, playing a top opponent. Not only did the 49ers come to play, they were blowing the Bears out for most of the game. As bitter as the loss may have been, the way the 49ers played must give us some hope for the remaining schedule. The offense has plenty of muscle, and the linebackers and secondary have looked good when healthy.
The only question that lingers like a long shadow: will our pass rush keep us out of the playoffs?
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