1985 Bears Coverage: Bears ground Lions

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Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.

Bears ground Lions

Kevin Lamb

Originally published Nov. 11, 1985

It was a miserable day for working outside, so Matt Suhey, Walter Payton and the offensive linemen gave the rest of the Bears the day off.

The Bears put the ball on the ground and the Detroit Lions under it yesterday. Suhey and Payton each ran for more than 100 yards in the windy and rainy 24-3 victory.

Quarterback Jim McMahon was able to rest his injured throwing shoulder in peace. For that matter, so was his replacement, Steve Fuller. He threw just 13 passes, and still the Bears outgained Detroit 360 yards to 106.

“They got that many?” grumped Mike Singletary, who recovered two fumbles. “I was hoping we held them to about 75.”

All nitpicking aside, coach Mike Ditka said, “It’s a very gratifying win when you can design what you want to do and go out and do it.”

The Bears did it beyond even Ditka’s expectations. They ran 55 times for 250 yards, usually between the tackles.

The ground game was the Bears’ shelter in the 17 m.p.h. wind that knocked a goalpost to the ground before the game. The day was ideal for nothing but exhibiting the league’s best rushing defense and the No. 2 rushing offense.

It also was a preview of what to expect if the Bears stay home for the playoffs. That appeared likely after the Los Angeles Rams’ defeat gave the Bears a two-game lead for the NFC’s best record.

The division race has become a playful romp. With the NFC’s first 10-0 record in 10 years, the Bears can clinch the NFC Central simply by winning at Dallas Sunday – or anywhere else in the next five weeks.

“I’d be miserable playing here in January,” defensive lineman Dan Hampton said of the playoffs. “But I’d much rather be miserable here than go out and get beat in L.A. Then I’d really be miserable.”

The Lions hoped to make themselves less miserable by choosing the wind instead of the ball on the opening kickoff.

“We would have done the same thing,” Ditka said. “You could hardly throw it short against that wind. If you throw it downfield, the ball goes everywhere.”

Ran on first 21

So the Bears took it wherever they wanted by running. They ran on their first 21 plays, including 12 on a drive that put them ahead 7-0 in the last minute of the first quarter. They ruined Detroit’s good strategy, which assumed the Lions’ offense would play more than 2:46 of the quarter with the wind at its back.

After that, it was clear the Bears didn’t need their three injured starters – McMahon, wide receiver Dennis McKinnon and tight end Emery Moorehead – all expected to be ready for Dallas.

They barely needed their defense. It was on the field for only 18:58 of the 60 minutes, although it did manage to make its presence felt. It made four sacks, intercepted two passes, recovered two fumbles and only once allowed the Lions more than one first down.

“The defense, they were the stars,” Payton said.

“The worst scenario in the world would be playing the Bears’ defense on a day like today,” said Fuller.

The Bears planned to run even if the weather had been balmy. “The scheme of their defense was set up to run the ball,” Suhey said.

It plays cautiously, preventing the big play and hoping little plays won’t reach the end zone. It also ranks last in the NFL against the run.

“But on a day like today, we had to run the ball and they knew we had to run it,” Fuller said. So it wasn’t as easy as it looked.

On first downs, when the Bears threw only four passes, the Bears averaged 6.4 yards on 28 runs. Sixteen of their 24 first-and-10 runs gained five yards or more.

It was Payton’s 69th 100-yard game and fifth in a row, two short of the NFL record. It was the third time he doubled with a running mate, once with Roland Harper and twice with Suhey.

Suhey averaged 6.4 yards, with 102 on 16 carries for his third 100-yard game. Payton averaged 4.1, re-entering the game for the eight that gave him 107 on 26 carries.

“Just goes to show you, Matt’s always been a great running back,” Payton said.

“You have to remember, we have a great offensive line,” said Suhey, unaccustomed as he is to the spotlight.

“He’s always had recognition from the guys in here,” Fuller said. “I think his best game was last week. You could not believe some of the blocks he had. But if Matt’s able to get more attention because of today, I think it’s great.”

Suhey had six of the Bears’ 10 runs that gained 10 yards or more. He had two of the four on the first touchdown drive.

But inside the 5, the Bears needed seven plays, Roosevelt Barnes’ defensive holding penalty and a favorable ruling to score. Fuller fumbled in the end zone on his one-foot touchdown sneak.

Gifted team

Another gift – Mike Meade’s penalty for running into punter Maury Buford – extended the 77-yard drive that made it 14-0 with 3:10 left in the first half. “Any time you give the ball back to a good football team, you’ve got problems,” Ditka said, “and I think we’re a pretty good team right now.”

On the next play, Payton turned a three-yard pass into a 33-yard gain to the 12. He also made the key block on Calvin Thomas’ seven-yard touchdown run. It was a draw play that Ditka said he wouldn’t have called if he had known the Lions would blitz.

“Walter made the play,” Ditka said. He leveled blitzing safety William Graham, even though it wasn’t a blitz he had practiced for.

“After 11 years, it’s kind of hard to fool the old man,” Payton said.

The Bears could have scored more points if they hadn’t sprinkled some tricks into their bland but grand running game. As it was, Fuller’s fumble set up the 34-yard field goal that made it 14-3. Fuller, who earlier fumbled a field-goal snap, rolled left, then scrambled to the right and pitched the ball back off Willie Gault’s hip.

Fuller improvised wisely on the touchdown that made it 21-3. He called a handoff to Payton in the huddle, but when the Lions blitzed, he kept the ball for a five-yard run to the right corner.

“I felt like there had been some doubt whether we could win without Jim,” Fuller said. “The idea we’d fall flat on our faces and not be able to do anything without Jim discouraged me a little bit. But the guys rallied around me and we did all right.”

The defense gave Kevin Butler two more shots at a field goal, and he made the second from 39 yards. The first chance came when linebacker Wilber Marshall sacked Eric Hipple for a fumble that Singletary recovered. Then one play after Butler’s 43-yard miss, linebacker Otis Wilson intercepted a pass.

“We call ourselves the Bermuda Triangle,” Singletary said.

“We knew the offense was going to take time with a new quarterback,” Marshall said. “Steve’s a good player. But we thought we should give him a little breathing room.”

Making their point

The Lions were the seventh team the Bears have held to 10 points or less, and the fifth in a row. The defense has allowed only three touchdowns in those five games. No NFL team has allowed fewer points.

“I thought it was great weather,” said safety Dave Duerson, who intercepted a pass. “We only had a couple guys with long sleeves. We prefer it like that. We call it Bear weather.”

The Bears can’t take their weather to Dallas Sunday, but they can take their knowledge of five straight losses to the Cowboys since 1971, plus a playoff game and a 15-13 exhibition last August – the Bears’ last defeat.

“We know it’s inevitable a football team will lose,” Hampton said. “No one has gone undefeated in 16 games. But I think you couldn’t convince any of the 45 guys in this room that we have to lose this year.”

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