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Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

49ers felt ‘in control’ vs. Bears before key penalty, Dante Pettis touchdown

Sep 11, 2022 at 4:09 PM--

It doesn't take much for the complexion of a game to change entirely in the NFL, and for the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, there were two plays in particular that sent them from a likely victory to an unexpected defeat in their 19-10 loss to the Chicago Bears.

The 49ers held a 10-0 third quarter lead over the Bears on Sunday and looked like the superior team for the duration of the game up to that point. They were well on their way towards building on that momentum when they appeared to have stopped Bears running back David Montgomery for no gain on a 3rd-and-4 play halfway through the third quarter, but linebacker Dre Greenlaw was flagged for a 15-yard face mask penalty on the play, which kept the Bears offense on the field. Three plays later, on a 3rd-and-10, Bears quarterback Justin Fields escaped pressure and found wide receiver Dante Pettis all alone on the opposite sideline, then lofted a pass towards Pettis that the receiver caught and took to the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown.

Pettis' touchdown only cut the lead to 10-7, but it got the crowd back into the game and put momentum into the Bears' corner for good. The penalty and touchdown were far from the only mistakes the 49ers committed that led to the loss -- there were also multiple chances to build a bigger lead earlier in the game that the 49ers failed to cash in on -- but there's no question those two plays marked the moment when the game stopped going the 49ers' way.

"We felt very in control," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said Sunday. "I think that one play was a huge change. I thought we had every chance to kind of run away with it in those first three quarters, especially those first two drives. Having a fumble inside the 10, then the next drive getting down there and ended up getting a sack on third down that knocked us out of field goal range, especially after Huf's turnover (safety Talanoa Hufanga's first half interception, which led to no points despite it giving the 49ers possession in Bears territory).

"(In the) third quarter, getting all the way down there and having that penalty and only coming up with a field goal, I thought we had every chance to run away with it. Then we were going to get it right back to go again, then that penalty on third and long gave them new life. They scored a touchdown and the game never got the momentum back."

The Bears felt the same way about the penalty and touchdown that Shanahan did. Fields pointed at the touchdown as the moment that started the fire for the Bears, which kept burning until the Bears ran off 19 unanswered points.

"That was kind of the play that changed the momentum of the whole game. Once that play happened, that kind of started everything else," Fields said.

Fields was running away from Pettis on the play but was able to immediately find him despite having his back turned after escaping the 49ers' pass rush. He told reporters after the game he wasn't surprised at how wide open Pettis was on the play, adding that he expected to find him there after looking in his direction.

"No, not really (surprised), just because of the defense they play -- the vision-and-break defense," Fields said. "They're just watching me, watching my eyes, and just watching where I go. So I knew he was over there, and once I looked right and saw him there wide open, I lofted it up just to make sure he caught the ball. He did a great job with yards after the catch, then EQ threw a great block so he could get into the end zone."

49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead was nearly able to grab Fields by the feet on the touchdown, but Fields narrowly avoided Armstead to keep the play alive.

"He broke a sack," Shanahan said. "I think Armstead had him right there. Fields did a hell of a job getting away from it. It was tough to get away from him -- I think it was Arik. Then he bought time, and coverages don't last that long."

The touchdown surely felt good for Pettis, who came into the league with the 49ers after they traded up to select him in Round 2 of the 2018 NFL Draft. The 49ers waived Pettis in 2020, and after spending time with the New York Giants in 2020 and 2021, Pettis landed with the Bears earlier this year. Few would have expected him to make the game-turning play against the 49ers, but Pettis turned out to be in the right place at the right time.

"I was supposed to sit there in the zone and I broke back out because I was nobody there," Pettis said. "I turned around and saw Justin running the other way, looked around, there was nobody by me. Then all of a sudden I see him start to throw to me (and I thought) 'Alright, let's go.' The ball felt like it was in the air for ever, just waiting there, caught it basically like a punt, and took off."

There were a number of key moments after the touchdown, including more costly penalties that hurt the 49ers and a fourth quarter interception by Bears defensive back Eddie Jackson that set up the touchdown that put the game away. But it all started with Greenlaw's penalty and Pettis' touchdown, which served as an example of how momentum can be a significant factor in the NFL.

"We definitely feel momentum," Pettis said. "So anytime there's a big play -- turnover, really big runs, big chunk play, a touchdown -- we feel that, especially when the crowd starts getting into it. It was fun. It was great."


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