The San Francisco 49ers play their last game in front of the Levi’s Stadium crowd on Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Riding a two-game win streak, Kyle Shanahan’s offense will face its toughest test of the season against the Bears’ top-ranked defense. The 49ers will look to play spoiler of sorts for the third straight week against a Chicago team still fighting for a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Here are five players to watch when the 49ers battle the Bears on Sunday:
QB Nick Mullens
Mullens’ performance through six starts has been nothing short of impressive. The former practice squad quarterback has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 1,754 yards, 10 touchdowns, six interceptions and a quarterback rating of 96 since his Week 9 debut against the Oakland Raiders. On Sunday, Mullens will face the league’s best defense led by former 49ers and current Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Mullens’ ability to manage the game and limit mistakes against a Bears defense leading the league in forced turnovers will be crucial toward the 49ers’ efforts to stay competitive against Chicago.
CB Tarvarius Moore
Starting cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon landed on injured reserve this week after suffering a sprained knee against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 15. Moore, the 49ers’ third-round pick in 2018, stepped in for Witherspoon and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson welcomed the rookie via a touchdown pass to receiver Doug Baldwin. It was an appropriate “Welcome to the NFL” moment for Moore, who played admirably for the remainder of the game. He now has the final two weeks of the season to showcase his ability, starting Sunday against a talent-laden Bears receiving corps that includes Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel.
OT Mike McGlinchey
McGlinchey has faced a gamut of upper-echelon pass rushers in 2018. The opposition has included Los Angeles Chargers’ Melvin Ingram, Denver Broncos’ Von Miller, Kansas City Chiefs’ Dee Ford and Arizona Cardinals’ Chandler Jones. The 49ers’ right tackle has been solid through his trial by fire as Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked rookie offensive lineman this season. McGlinchey now faces his toughest test of the season in Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack, who’s totaled 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles this season. He and left tackle Joe Staley play a significant role in the success of the 49ers’ offense on Sunday.
DT Solomon Thomas
The oft-criticized first pick of general manager John Lynch hasn’t amounted to expectations from the third-overall pick, but Thomas may be building some late-season momentum. His presence was felt against the Seahawks despite a modest stat line. Thomas drew a pair of holding penalties against the Seahawks, one nullifying a 32-yard pass play in overtime. NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger broke down Thomas’ unheralded success against the Seahawks here. Thomas’ PFF grade of 73.8 was the second-best on the 49ers’ defense against the Seahawks. Keep an eye on the 49ers’ former first round pick as he again hopes to torment quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, just as he did when Stanford met North Carolina in the 2016 Sun Bowl.
WR Dante Pettis
Together, Mullens and Pettis account for 21 catches, 254 yards and four touchdowns in six games. The rookie receiver has earned the trust of both quarterback and coach, establishing himself as a reliable options for the 49ers in Shanahan’s offense. Pettis’ 32 targets since Week 10 rank second to breakout tight end George Kittle with 49. The former Washington receiver caught all five of his targets for 83 yards against the Seahawks in Week 15. His separation ability will be relied upon again on Sunday against the Bears’ top-ranked passing defense with a league-best 26 interceptions on the season.