For Chicago Bears fans in their 30s, or early 40s, it might be hard not to compare Sunday’s quarterback showdown at Soldier Field with a similar contest 22 years ago. This one will hopefully end far better for the Bears in both the short and long term.
The San Francisco 49ers are led by a raw, second-year quarterback with tantalizing physical tools. They face a Bears team with a second-year quarterback who struggled as a rookie but was more highly thought of as a complete player. On Sept. 3, 2000, the Minnesota Vikings – a playoff team the year previous – started Daunte Culpepper, a raw, second-year quarterback with tantalizing physical tools. He faced Cade McNown, a second-year quarterback who struggled as a rookie but was more highly thought of as a complete player.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: I watched this game as a college student at the ESPN Zone in Times Square. Most bars in NYC still didn’t have league-wide accessibility.]
That game ended up being perhaps McCown’s best as a professional. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t throw an interception. He also ran for 87 yards on 10 attempts, adding another touchdown. The Bears managed 425 yards and 27 points, and the Gary Crowton offense looked like the future of the league.
But the Bears lost the game.
Culpepper struggled as a passer, completing just 13 of 23 passes for 190 yards and an interception. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass but ran for three scores and 73 yards. A 20-9 Bears lead disappeared in the second half but both teams exited Week One feeling good about their young passers. Ultimately, neither proved a long-term answer. McCown was benched eight weeks later and exited the NFL abruptly. Culpepper had a far more substantial career, but the Vikings continually fell short of lofty expectations.
What can we learn? Simply that one game does not make a season and certainly won’t define a career. But the quarterbacks will always be connected.
Offensive Line Questions
Lucas Patrick is one of the Bears’ best five offensive linemen. On Monday, Matt Eberflus said Patrick was practicing at center and guard. To me, that indicates he is capable of snapping because how could one practice at center without being able to snap the ball? So, the discussion really might be Sam Mustipher vs. Teven Jenkins.
There is no question that Jenkins is talented, but he’s still new to the right guard position. It has gone mostly unrecognized, but Mustipher had a solid preseason, and we shouldn’t rule out the scheme change being a major benefit to him. The Bears coaching staff seems to genuinely like Mustipher or they wouldn’t have even considered him at right guard before the season. While the development of Jenkins has import, the team can’t put an inferior offensive line in front of the most important player in the franchise simply for developmental purposes.
More Offensive Line Questions
As much grief as the Bears have gotten about their offensive line, San Francisco’s isn’t in great shape either.
Their interior has been gutted from a year ago. Center Alex Mack retired. Guard Laken Tomlinson signed a big deal with the Jets. Both played more than 99% of snaps last year. Daniel Brunskill is returning, and they have all-world tackle Trent Williams, but they’re currently questionable at three spots.
This could be a good game for Justin Jones to announce his presence. Perhaps more importantly, the Bears need Trevis Gipson to win his matchup.
Past Successes and Failures
With a new regime, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect, but the Bears’ two most important coaches both faced the 49ers last year.
Matt Eberflus held Kyle Shanahan’s offense to 18 points in a 30-18 Colts win on Oct. 24, but that might not mean much this time around.
- Colts intercepted Jimmy G. twice and held him to 181 yards on 27 attempts.
- Elijah Mitchell ran for 107 yards on 18 carries.
- The Bears should be better equipped to slow down Deebo Samuel, who had 100 yards and a touchdown on seven catches. The Colts didn’t have a cornerback as good as Jaylon Johnson.
Luke Getsy had two matchups against 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans last year. In the first, the Packers scored 30 points as a Mason Crosby field goal as time expired gave them a two-point win. In the second. The Packers managed just 10 points.
That Packers team, of course, was completely different in terms of talent and Getsy didn’t run the offense. Familiarity could benefit the Bears, but Getsy needs to find answers his former boss couldn’t in January.