If the Chicago Bears are to reach .500 for the first time in more than a year, they must find a way to halt their struggles at home.
A visit from the lowly San Francisco 49ers should help.
Looking to continue their second-half surge, the Bears try to keep the 49ers winless on the road Sunday.
Chicago (5-6) has won three of four but each victory came on the road. The Bears have dropped 11 of their last 14 at home and are 1-4 this season at Soldier Field, where they'll play three of the final five. They lost their last two there to Minnesota and Denver by a combined five points.
“You've got to take care of the next one, that's all it is,” coach John Fox said.
Chicago's concern this weekend seems less about location and more with moving back to .500 for the first time since it was 3-3 on Oct. 12 of last year. The Bears also find themselves one game back – with three teams ahead – of the final wild-card spot in the NFC.
''I think the whole thing is having meaningful or relevant games,'' Fox said. ''You want to put yourself in that position, but you definitely want to keep the focus small. All our focus right now is on the San Francisco 49ers.''
They would seem to be the ideal opponent for the Bears to prevail at home and even their record.
San Francisco (3-8) has been outscored 176-71 while going 0-5 away from home for the first time since winning only its road finale in 2005. Though the 49ers haven't played at Soldier Field since 2006, they've dropped their last six regular-season trips to Chicago.
“You're not going to change flights. You're not going to change that you're going on the road,'' San Francisco coach Jim Tomsula said. ''So, the changes need to come from each one of us and how we have ourselves prepared to play.
“Again, the acknowledgment of it and mentally coming off getting off a bus on game day. And maybe we need to sprint off the bus. But, that sense of urgency … attack that football game.”
That won't be easy against a Bears team that's yielded an average of 15.5 points in the last four games after giving up 28.9 in the first seven. A defense in which veteran cornerback Tracy Porter and linebacker Pernell McPhee are its most notable names, has allowed one touchdown in three of the last four.
''We're just continuously getting better, playing with each other, getting that chemistry,'' Porter said. ''I've said it time and time again, this defense is doing great things, this team is doing great things.
''We're moving in the right direction.''
The defense is under the direction of former 49ers coordinator Vic Fangio, who was passed over for the head coaching position after Jim Harbaugh left.
''I've just always accepted it's their decision, their team,'' he said. ''They do what they want with it.''
Fangio's defense is second against the pass, giving up 214.5 yards per game, but ranks 29th against the run, allowing 128.5 per game. The Bears surrendered a season-high 177 run yards in a 17-13 win at Green Bay on Thanksgiving. San Francisco, though, has been held to fewer than 70 yards rushing in five of the last six games and totaled 126 while dropping its last two against Seattle and Arizona.
Running back Carlos Hyde appears likely to miss a fifth straight game with a stress fracture in his foot, meaning ex-Bear Shaun Draughn could again be the featured back. Draughn has averaged 3.4 yards per carry while gaining 146 in starting the last three games.
Teammate Blaine Gabbert has completed 65.3 percent of his passes with four TDs and three interceptions in three games since taking over for Colin Kaepernick.
“Some of the plays he makes, I think he's able to showcase some of his skills and prove that he belongs in this league,” receiver Torrey Smith said. “I'm just glad that he's able to go out and prove it.''
Gabbert has found a rapport with tight end Vance McDonald, who has 10 receptions for 136 yards and two TDs in the last two contests.
Defensively, San Francisco has held two of its last three opponents to fewer than 20 points and limited the Cardinals to 337 total yards in last Sunday's 19-13 defeat. However, the 49ers haven't forced a turnover in the last three contests and matched a season high with 13 penalties against Arizona.
They'll try to get after Chicago's Jay Cutler, who posts a career-high 92.5 passer rating and has thrown one INT in the last three games.
Even if tight end Martellus Bennett returns from missing last week's contest with sore ribs, Cutler should still look the way of Zach Miller. Bennett's backup has four TDs in the last four games.
- Blaine Gabbert
- Carlos Hyde
- Chicago Bears
- Colin Kaepernick
- Jay Cutler
- Martellus Bennett
- Pernell McPhee
- San Francisco 49ers
- Shaun Draughn
- Torrey Smith
- Tracy Porter
- Vance McDonald
- Zach Miller