On the NFL
November 20, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO — Jay Cutler picked a great game to sit out.
It wasn't such a great game for the Bears defense to sit out.
The same defense that had been making Cutler's life easy by taking the pressure off and giving him comfy leads did no such favors for Jason Campbell, the sacrificial quarterback.
If Campbell could have played against the Bears defense Monday night, he might have broken the record Matt Schaub of the Texans tied Sunday by throwing for 527 yards in a game. Instead, against a defense that had blood in its eye, he threw for 107 yards and had a passer rating of 52.7.
The Bears defense forgot how to tackle and allowed the 49ers to score on their first four drives to take a 20-0 lead. From that point, it was a matter of trying to play catch-up for Campbell.
He really had an impossible job.
"Tonight was probably the worst nightmare," Campbell said.
In the world of backup quarterbacks, Campbell was closer to Caleb Hanie than Colin Kaepernick. And for 3.5 million reasons, the Bears had the right to expect more.
At key points when the Bears needed Campbell to step up, especially on third down, he did not.
He converted only one third down passing. Most of the time when Campbell attempted a third-down pass, the result was a big play for the 49ers.
There were two interceptions (one intended for Devin Hester that should not have been thrown because the defender was squatting on the route; another was an overthrow to Earl Bennett), four sacks, three fumbles and a safety.
It would have been nice for Campbell to have shown some spark, to have given the Bears a little feel-good to walk away with, something they could build on if Cutler can't go against the Vikings. There was little of that.
He did throw a meaningless 13-yard touchdown pass that required a great leaping catch by Brandon Marshall, but almost every other shot Campbell fired was a blank.
He led an offense that looked like it was relieved to get off the field with a punt.
Lovie Smith indicated after the game that he feels good about the chance of Cutler returning Sunday. But as the 49ers proved Monday, you can't be sure when a concussed player will return.
"Jason Campbell is more than capable," Marshall said. "He's a starting quarterback who is in a backup role. If we give him enough time to make the throws, and then when he makes the throws if we come down with it, it's a different story about him. He needs guys around him making better plays and we didn't do that tonight."
We can't judge Campbell too harshly based on one performance. Even if the backup who signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal in the offseason didn't have a Grand Canyon-sized hole he was trying to dig out of, this would have been a tough first assignment.
He was playing on a national stage in a hostile stadium against the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL.
"You have to throw it away and move forward," Campbell said. "It was definitely one of the toughest games I've been involved with in my career."
At least he didn't throw five interceptions the way Cutler did the last time the Bears played at Candlestick Park in 2009.
Campbell didn't have much help from his offensive linemen, who played like they wanted to send 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith to the Pro Bowl and Campbell to the hospital.
The receivers struggled to get open.
"We have to give him a chance," Devin Hester said. "We didn't give him a chance to showcase his talents tonight. We have to give him an opportunity to get a good look."
Campbell gave no one the evil eye.
"We all have some improvements to do," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and say anything about one position. I think we all, from top to bottom, have a lot of work to do."
The Bears' quarterback play has been concerning for much of the season, even through the good times. It might be more concerning now.
If the Bears want to be the best team in the NFC, they need a quarterback who can overcome long odds and win in tough situations.
They didn't have that Monday.
Will they Sunday against the Vikings?
Will they ever?
Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC