Bernstein: Nonexistent defense ruins Bears' day


(670 The Score) The better stories never had a chance, not when you can't stop the other team from scoring. There were some there amid the carnage, though the tale was told by the stark numbers.

It was 33-22 in favor of the 49ers, no matter what else happened.

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Absent Khalil Mack before the game with a sprained foot and Eddie Jackson just 15 seconds in after a hamstring pull, the Bears' defense wilted and wizened like so much of the unconscionably bad Soldier Field turf itself Sunday. The Bears were blocked away from ball-carriers, pushed out of their gaps, held at bay in the pass game and fooled by misdirections. The 49ers never punted and never turned it over.

Jimmy Garoppolo was 17-of-28 for 322 yards and two rushing touchdowns, leading an offense that racked up 467 total yards while averaging 8.6 yards per play and 11.5 per pass. The 49ers only possessed the ball for 22:49 because time was something they never needed to execute what they wanted.

And it's too bad, because there were some reasons for encouragement underneath it all for the Bears, if you want to look at it that way.

Justin Fields was mostly brilliant if still conservative, playing both efficiently and at times spectacularly until an interception on a tipped desperation heave ended a good day on sour note and wrecked his personal numbers. His second-quarter touchdown throw to Jesse James was notably athletic, all arm and across his body as if starting a double play after fielding a bouncer in the hole, and his 22-yard scramble score in the fourth quarter was artwork by necessity.

Fields still must avoid those killer sacks, though, particularly the ones on first down that change the play-calling at just the wrong time.

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Speaking of which, it was nice to see more play action and side-to-side movement in the Bears' offense, especially before Khalil Herbert left due to injury. The whispers regarding coach Matt Nagy's absence grew louder as the game wore on, with those always worried about his veto power over offensive coordinator Bill Lazor feeling there was a clear lesson to be learned while imagining Nagy hidden away, either banished to some dank and darkened basement corner like Milton Waddams or immobilized in the umpires' room like Enrico Palazzo. But being a better play-caller than Nagy is still a far cry from being a good one.

Regardless, it ended up not really being that important.

What is, now, is the unmistakable truth told by the Bears' 3-5 record at what used to be the season's halfway point.

The NFL trade deadline comes Tuesday, and even if general manager Ryan Pace projected his signature brand of unearned confidence by asserting before the game that he would approach this defining point with an "aggressive mindset," that may have a different interpretation if it holds true. He'd be wise to be aggressive in accruing draft capital and finding any possible salary cap relief, positioning himself or his successor for a better chance to compete another year.

This one's not it.

It's time to be about Fields' wisest development above and beyond anything else, if indeed this staff can be at all trusted to make the right decisions for the right reasons and not load him up with self-defeating strategies that beget negative experiences that then have to be unlearned.

For a while Sunday, this game was dressed in costume appropriate for the day, disguised as something different and better and more fun. It eventually proved to be mostly novelty, indeed.

But there's no masking what the Bears are, and all we have is whatever chance remains to think about what they could still yet be.

Dan Bernstein is the co-host of the Bernstein & Rahimi Show on middays from 9 a.m. until noon on 670 The Score. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Quinn Harris/Getty Images