The 49ers can’t be accused of mailing it in late in the season with nothing to play for.
They went toe-to-toe, literally in cornerback Richard Sherman’s case, against a contending team that was playing with playoff seeding on the line Sunday.
San Francisco fell 14-9 in a hard-fought home finale against the Chicago Bears, who clinched the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs and haven’t been eliminated from earning a first-round bye with an 11-4 record heading into Week 17.
The most notable moment came in the fourth quarter, when Sherman jumped into a crowd along the Bears’ sideline to help his teammate, rookie safety Marcell Harris, who was the target of ire from the road team after he hit quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
“It’s their whole sideline against one of my teammates,” Sherman said. “And the rest of us, everybody was trying to get (Harris). As a leader, you can’t let them do your teammate like that. Regardless of the circumstances, regardless of what’s going down.”
Harris hit Trubisky in the head well after he began sliding during a 7-yard scramble. The play happened along the sideline, and Harris was hit by receiver Anthony Miller immediately. Harris got up to defend himself and his teammates rallied to help.
But no one was more aggressive than Sherman, in his first season with San Francisco, who ran from the other side of the field, jumped into the crowd and started throwing blows. He got into it most heavily with reserve receiver Joshua Bellamy. Miller and Bellamy were ejected, as was Sherman, who didn’t have any problem with the punishment for having his teammate’s back.
“So I went in there to grab him, and they continued to pull and jerk and grab on me,” Sherman said. “I’m a grown man with kids. I don’t care about any of that. At the end of the day, they’re going to get punished for it. You know what I mean? You’re going to catch these hands with the wrong man.
“You put your hands on me, you’re going to feel me.”
Sherman’s willingness to enter the fight was emblematic of his impact on the 49ers this season, even as they fell to 4-11 and have been out of playoff contention for weeks. They’ve played hard and with passion for most of the season, which wasn’t always true in recent years under previous coaching staffs.
“Richard’s a baller, and I respect what he did,” tight end George Kittle said. “I will not pay his fine, though.”
The Bears had an obvious edge in talent. But the 49ers, with their third-string quarterback, were game nonetheless. And Sherman’s leadership during the brawl was evidence, as was the fact the 49ers led for most of the contest.
“Sherman, very clear to me was trying to get his brother’s back,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I love for guys to do that as much as they can. It’s definitely better when they do it as much as they can and they don’t get ejected. But they had two get ejected, we had one, so it was better. But I respect the heck out of Sherm.”
Trubisky had an efficient afternoon, completing 25 of 29 passes for 246 yards with a touchdown. Jordan Howard had 53 yards on 13 carries and the other score. The Bears, owners of arguably the NFL’s best defense, kept the 49ers out of the end zone and shut them out in the second half.
San Francisco’s best opportunities came in the second quarter, when Kittle couldn’t catch a 15-yard touchdown with safety Adrian Amos Jr. in good coverage (Shanahan contended Amos hit Kittle before breaking up the pass). The 49ers drove to the 5-yard line before halftime but had to settle for a field goal with five seconds left rather than risk running out of time.
Quarterback Nick Mullens had the 49ers at the Chicago 20 midway through the fourth quarter, but he threw a pass just wide to Marquise Goodwin, who could have brought it in, but the ball deflected right to linebacker Danny Trevathan.
The skirmish between Sherman and the Bears’ sideline came four plays later. Chicago was trying to salt away the game and Trubisky scrambled to convert on third and 5 before taking the hit from Harris.
Mullens, who completed 22 of 38 passes for 241 yards with an interception, appreciated what Sherman did as a leader on the other side of the ball.
“It’s awesome,” Mullens said. “You definitely you don’t want penalties, but the fact he’s fighting for our team, standing up, that’s what we take pride in. We know the brotherhood we have here. We know the bond that we have no matter who’s out on the field. That’s (what) I’m almost most proud of the team this year, with the things we’ve gone through. We have a great group of guys, and that’s a pretty darn good football team that we just played.
“Look how we fought.”