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CHICAGO – The 49ers celebrated like they had just scored a touchdown and taken a lead in the second quarter against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
But they did not score. And the ensuring premature celebration probably ended up preventing the 49ers from their best opportunity to get into the end zone, period.
Dontae Johnson scooped up a punt Shaun Draughn deflected off the foot of Bears punter Pat O’Donnell. Johnson returned it 25 yards and was ruled to have stepped out of bounds at the 4-yard line.
But Johnson, thinking he had scored, did a snow angel at the back of the end zone. Rookie Rashard Robinson also got on his back and did the same thing. Referee Pete Morelli's crew flagged Robinson for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“They understand the rules of the game,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said of his players. “Dontae is allowed to do whatever. He is just celebrating. But I don’t think he can go to the ground, so it’s just going to be a single-person celebration and you can’t use any props.
“We go over all of this and (it’s) not a disciplined play by us and we will re-emphasize what we have to do in terms of discipline and poise. Play with emotion and not let emotion play us. I like when guys have emotion, but not when it jeopardizes us.”
Kelly added, “I know our coordinators do a really good job of showing things that happen around the league so we learn from other people, and we will really emphasize that again this week.”
On the question of whether Johnson was truly out of bounds, a play in which a ballcarrier is ruled down by contact or out of bounds (not involving fumbles or the line to gain) is not reviewable.
Robinson’s penalty moved the 49ers back to the 19-yard line. Carlos Hyde was stopped for a 1-yard loss; Hyde gained 3 yards; and Colin Kaepernick completed a 4-yard pass to Vance McDonald on a third-and-8 play. Phil Dawson kicked a 31-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
The snowy conditions were in stark contrast to the mid-80s temperatures in which the 49ers trained during the week in Orlando, Fla. Kelly downplayed the possibility that the team’s stop to prepare at the University of Central Florida had a negative impact on the 49ers’ inability to function in the cold weather.
"It's not like we could have practiced in Saskatchewan,” Kelly said.
“That’s got nothing to do with it,” said 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who replaced starter Colin Kaepernick in the fourth quarter. “We’re professionals. Rain, sleet, sun, cloudy weather, freezing cold, 90 degrees — that has no effect on how we approach and how we get ready to play a football game.”
The 49ers have lost 11 consecutive games. This might have been the club’s worst showing, yet. Although some players were heard cursing as they entered the locker room after the game, others were seen laughing and taking things lightly in the locker room and in the food line before boarding buses for the airport.
“You have to play for pride, man,” 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. “You got to play in the NFL. You got to play for pride. Play for your job. This is a situation that none of us want to be in. If you have pride in what you do, that’s going to carry you through the last four games.”
CHICAGO – The 49ers on Sunday had the second-worst passing day in the 71-season history of the organization.
Coach Chip Kelly made the move at the beginning of the fourth quarter to bench quarterback Colin Kaepernick in favor of Blaine Gabbert as the 49ers sunk to new depths with a 26-6 loss to the Chicago Bears on a cold, snowy day at Soldier Field.
Kelly said he made the move because it was clear to him that Kaepernick was not coping well with the inclement conditions. Kaepernick completed just one of five passing attempts for 4 yards through three quarters. He was sacked five times for minus-25 yards.
Kelly was asked afterward if Kaepernick would regain his starting job for next week’s game against the New York Jets.
“We haven’t had any discussions about anything,” Kelly said. “It was just my decision to make a move to see if we could get a spark and see where we were.
“At that point in the game, we’re down a couple of scores (18 points) and, obviously, we have to throw it a ton. So we just wanted to see if we could get a spark for our team. There were no permanent decisions or anything like that.”
Gabbert did not have much more success in his one quarter of action. He completed four of 10 attempts for 35 yards. He was sacked in the end zone late in the fourth quarter for a safety.
“Yeah, I was surprised,” Kaepernick said of his benching. “It wasn’t something I expected. I’m always prepared and ready to do everything I can to help this team win.
“It’s not about my feelings. It’s about being able to help this team win. This coaching staff didn’t feel like I was, you know, out there being able to help this team win, so they made a change -- whether I agreed with that or not.”
The 49ers stuck with the running game for most of the game. Running back Carlos Hyde gained 92 yards on 20 rushing attempts, while Kaepernick rushed six times for 20 yards.
Kelly took the conservative approach in conditions that were snowy, wet and near freezing. There was no wind. Kelly was asked afterward if he might have been too cautious with Kaepernick.
“No, I was just watching how the ball was coming off his hands and what our chances were of completing it,” he said. “Maybe I was too cautious, but it didn’t look like we were doing much in the passing game.”
Kelly pointed out that the weather did not appear to have much of a negative impact on Bears quarterback Matt Barkley, who completed 11 of 18 passes for 192 yards.
“Both teams played in the same weather, so I don’t look at that as an excuse, in terms of we had the same weather that they had,” Kelly said. “Both teams had to deal with it, and they dealt with it better, especially in the pass game.”
Said Kaepernick, “I think the weather was something that definitely played a factor. We have to be able to do a better job managing that, handing it and being able to throw the ball, still.
“More than anything, it was tougher throwing a wet football. Once again, we have to be better at, being able to handle it.”
The 49ers had just 6 yards of net passing in the game. Kaepernick and Gabbert combined for 39 yards passing. Negative yardage on sacks counts against net passing yardage in the NFL, and the 49ers had 33 yards in sacks.
The 49ers franchise-worst game in passing is minus-10 yards. Quarterbacks Bob Waters and Lamar McHan combined for 63 yards passing against the Detroit Lions on Oct. 6, 1963. The 49ers gave up 73 yards in sacks to account for the negative yardage.
“It was just one of those days,” Gabbert said. “It’s not on any single guy’s shoulders why we didn’t win this football game and why we didn’t execute as an offense.”
Kaepernick had been playing some of the best football of his career entering Sunday’s game. In the 49ers’ 31-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins a week earlier, Kaepernick threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns and gained 113 yards rushing.
“We have to continue to keep building, keep progressing,” Kaepernick said. “This is a setback, most definitely, but we have to be able to keep pushing forward.”
On Sunday, the NFL Network reported Kaepernick planned to opt out the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Kaepernick said he is not looking ahead to the offseason.
“Once again, like I’ve said all along, my focus is on the next game,” Kaepernick said. “So my focus has been on the Bears this past week.”
When asked whether he expects to remain the 49ers’ starter, Kaepernick answered, “That’s not my decision. My feelings on it really don’t matter at this point. I’m just going to do everything I can to make sure I’m prepared.”