The Chicago Bears (3-4) and San Francisco 49ers (2-4) are experiencing similarly disappointing seasons. The Bears are coming off one of the most humiliating losses in franchise history, 38-3, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, while the 49ers looked sluggish and unprepared against the Indianapolis Colts in their 30-18 loss last Sunday night.
Week 8’s game at Soldier Field will be one of those near-mid-season must-win contests. Both the 49ers and Bears are viewing this game as a get-right opportunity, which would make a loss even more devastating considering it would drop San Francisco to three games below .500; for Chicago, it would be a lost opportunity to grab a ‘W’ before facing off against a string of potential playoff teams.
But should fans really be all that surprised that Chicago and San Francisco are where they are? Both teams drafted quarterbacks in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and it was expected that Trey Lance (49ers) and Justin Fields (Bears) would each be starting by now. Usually, teams hand their offense over to rookie quarterbacks when it’s time to begin looking toward next year. And while that wasn’t exactly how Fields or Lance (before his injury) ended up as first-teamers—both Andy Dalton and Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt—they were inserted into the lineup sooner than expected, which means losses should’ve been expected, too.
It doesn’t appear like we’ll have a Fields vs. Lance showdown on Sunday, however. Lance is still recovering from a knee injury and is back at practice this week on a limited basis, but the presumption is that he’ll only see action in spot duty. It’s a game that’s tracking as Fields vs. Garoppolo, which could result in a fireworks display of turnovers. Fields gave the ball away five times against the Buccaneers, while Garoppolo had three turnovers against the Colts.
“We know Trey’s the future here, and Trey’s coming off a pretty big injury, so we’re going to keep bringing him along and keep getting him prepared as good as he can be to always be ready to come in and help on the plays we ask him to do,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said this week. “Always be ready to take over if Jimmy gets hurt, and be ready to be the future for us, too.”
Garoppolo has a chance to find some success against a Bears defense that’s expected to be without star pass-rusher Khalil Mack, and Robert Quinn, who’s having a resurgent season with 5.5 sacks so far, could miss his second-consecutive game on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Without their dynamic duo on the edge, Chicago will struggle to get home against Garoppolo, which means more targets for the ever-dangerous Deebo Samuel.
But let’s be honest: this game would be so much more exciting if Fields and Lance were squaring off in their first duel. Lance leapfrogged Fields in the run-up to the 2021 NFL Draft despite having only one full season as an FCS starter. He was picked third overall. Fields, with all his hype and success as a high school recruit and starter at Ohio State, fell outside the top 10. It’s a potential rivalry between two quarterbacks with very bright futures yet very different pasts. It’d be nice if that rivalry can kick off in their rookie seasons.
Regardless, Sunday’s matchup is about more than just Fields vs. Lance. Shanahan and Matt Nagy are both on the hot seat, with Nagy’s bottom blistering from the heat. Shanahan didn’t begin the year as a coach under pressure, but San Francisco’s failure to show much progress under his leadership in recent seasons has the temperature around him beginning to boil. A loss not only could end either team’s season but could also fast track the losing coach to the unemployment line.
First-round rookie quarterbacks. Two coaches with shortening leashes. Teams that are in a win-or-else window of their season. Yeah, this game has more intrigue than the records indicate and could end up being one of the more impactful outcomes of the week. Stay tuned.
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