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Haugh: Bears drop from ranks of NFL’s elite

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 9:59 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — SAN FRANCISCO — In 2009, the Chicago Cubs selected a strong, 6-foot-4-inch power pitcher named Colin Kaepernick in the 43rd round of the amateur baseball draft.

So in some ways Kaepernick’s right arm always seemed destined to disappoint Chicago one day.

Memorably, that moment for Kaepernick came Monday night at Candlestick Park as the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers in a 32-7 thumping of the Bears so overwhelming it threatens to change the context of the season.

“We have to leave this game as quickly as we possibly can,” Bears’ coach Lovie Smith said after walking off the field looking as disgusted as after any game in his tenure. “There’s nothing good to really talk about.”

Nope. With quarterback Jay Cutler out concussed, the Bears regressed.

Welcome back to second place in the NFC North, stuck at seven wins with only one over a team with a winning record — the Indianapolis Colts. Perhaps the Bears aren’t as good as some of us thought but no way are they as bad as they looked on their most uninspiring night of football in years. The San Francisco fog hung heavy on the Bears sideline on a clear night for everybody else in Northern California.

Their daze lingered until the final minutes when ESPN cameras caught an irritated Brandon Marshall shouting at someone on the sideline.

“I was really frustrated,” Marshall said. “This was a big opportunity for us and we didn’t get it done. Games like this, you really want to compete.”

Inexplicably, the Bears didn’t and no longer deserve to keep company with teams considered the NFL’s elite. They earned all the skepticism coming their way, however over the top it will be, because that’s what happens when a team fails to meet expectations it established for itself. Pressure shifts to Smith and a staff that was outcoached to figure out how to redirect a playoff team that suddenly seems lost and listless.

“We need to use this as a wake-up call,” Bears quarterback Jason Campbell said.

Wake up from what?

Coach Jim Harbaugh missed 49ers practice Thursday because of an arrhythmia, but the Bears were the ones who seemed affected by a heart issue — the lack of it. In terms of emotion and execution, the woebegone Bears appeared overwhelmed and underprepared in front of a national TV audience that always will remember this as The Kaepernick Game.

Making his first NFL start in place of 49ers starter Alex Smith, who like Cutler missed the game with a concussion, Kaepernick responded like the experienced veteran the Bears expected backup Campbell to be. There have been Richter-scale readings higher than Campbell’s passer rating was at points in the first half. By the end of a long night, people wondered why the Bears paid $3.5 million for Campbell — and what the 49ers will do with Kaepernick once Smith returns.

On quick slants, Kaepernick flashed the arm that used to throw 94 mph fastballs. On downfield passes, he displayed a soft touch, especially when hitting Vernon Davis to remind Chicago what a real NFL tight end looks like. The 49ers’ Kid K can play.

“It was surprising but this is the NFL and he came to play,” Bears cornerback Kelvin Hayden said.

The biggest confidence boost for Kaepernick came on the 49ers’ second drive when he delivered a 57-yard beauty to wide receiver Kyle Williams. Williams, who comes from a family that loves the long ball, went deep to beat Hayden and late-arriving safety Chris Conte.

The only thing the Bears did right was decide to leave Cutler at home. The way 49ers pass-rusher Aldon Smith dominated the offensive line with 5 ½ sacks, every pass play would have been a potential accident. If only pass protection was the Bears’ biggest problem — at least they are used to that.

But with Cutler not making the trip, the Bears defense decided not to show up either. The most discouraging thing was the way the 49ers smacked the Bears around like they have almost every trip to the San Francisco Bay Area since 1985. The Bears still can make the playoffs if Cutler returns healthy. They can overcome occasional big plays in the passing game. But they cannot survive if their defense stops stopping the run.

The list of bad defensive performances will be a long one, but safety Major Wright’s name sits near the top. Conte’s won’t be far behind. Come to think of it, after seeing Frank Gore run through another Brian Urlacher arm tackle, and Lance Briggs lunge unsuccessfully at Gore’s backup, Kendall Hunter, it would be easier to say who on the Bears played well.

Is no one one or two words?

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