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1985 Bears Coverage: Bears pigeon hole Falcons

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 pigeon hole Falcons

Ray Sons

Originally published Nov. 25, 1985

How good is the Bear defense?

“It’s the best that’s ever been in this league,” Steve McMichael was saying.

Really, the best ever?

On second thought, McMichael conceded: “There might have been a better defense, but they played in Russia.”

McMichael, left defensive tackle for the Bears, can be considered a biased source. I prefer the testimony of Dan Henning, head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, who said the Bears were so strong at every defensive position “it’s tough to find a hole to go into.”

That plaint of a cornered mouse may have been the best compliment paid to the Bears’ defensive cats.

Henning, 43 years old going on 63, had just seen the feathers pulled off his Falcons, 36-0. If Falcons were proper birds for

Thanksgiving, the Atlanta fowl would be ready for table, as they were chopped, plucked, stuffed, basted, skewered and served with gravy at a picnic for 61,769 early holiday revelers in Soldier Field yesterday.

So helpless were the Falcons on offense it is hard to be charitable and refrain from calling them pigeons. When Henry Waechter

has three sacks, a safety and a game ball, you get the idea.

The Atlanta numbers speak volumes: minus 22 yards passing, 3 complete passes, an average gain of 2 yards per offensive play, only 2 penetrations of Bear territory all afternoon, plus one gift arrival by a fumble recovery. The Bear defense not only scored a safety, but turned the ball over two yards from the end zone, allowing the offense to stroll for a touchdown.

In an era in which pro football defense has been made immeasurably more difficult by rule changes, the Bears have shut out the opposition for 10 straight quarters. The last touchdown by an opponent was scored in the third period of a game at Green Bay Nov. 3. Maybe the Packers should bronze that ball and send it to the Hall of Fame in Canton.

To be honest, one must say it is easier to wring the neck of an Atlanta Falcon than to unhorse a Dallas Cowboy, as the Bears had done in such impressive fashion in their previous shutout.

Without the injured Steve Bartkowski, the Falcons have nobody to play quarterback but Dave Archer and Bob Holly, signed as free agents last year. The Atlanta offensive line protects these diamonds in the rough as flawed rhinestones discarded in an alley.

“They have some things they need to work out in their passing game,” Bear Leslie Frazier said, with as much charity as he could muster. “They’re pretty predictable. It’s easy to read what they want to get done.”

Dan Hampton and Gary Fencik were disdainful of the Falcons’ insistence on running when passing was obviously in order. They saw it as surrender.

“It was pretty evident when we were ahead 20-0 and they were still trying to run the ball,” Hampton said. “They were scared to get back in the pocket and let us tee off.”

Fencik thought Atlanta was overly concerned with helping Gerald Riggs fatten his league-leading rushing stats. Many of his 110 yards came in obvious passing situations. “They were bent on getting him 100 yards, and not really concerned about the score,” the Bear safety charged. “That’s fine with us.”

Frazier and his partner at cornerback, Mike Richardson, were awarded game balls by coach Mike Ditka. They shut out Atlanta’s wide receivers, and credited the relentless pressure applied to the passer.

The Bears didn’t have to blitz to achieve that pressure. All five sacks were recorded by linemen. Frazier and Fencik accomplished their fifth interceptions of the season. Leslie, a running back in high school, remembered enough moves for his second dazzling runback in as many weeks, this one for 32 yards.

Frazier made his theft sound more like a gift. “I saw Richard Dent getting in Archer’s face and I didn’t think he would throw the ball. I read the quarterback and the receiver at the same time. . .He Archer almost overthrew both of us.”

That’s when Henning switched quarterbacks. Dent, who had been in Archer’s face constantly, opined the coach had made a change at the wrong position. “You have to work at the line before you work at the quarterback,” he said laconically. “You gotta block people.”

Dent twice took advantage of invitations he read in the way Atlanta linemen addressed him. (“My tackle looked soft, like he was going to drop back for a pass block.”) Richard turned the first invitation into a touchdown, charging past that “soft” tackle to strip the defenseless Holly of the ball at the goal line.

Mike Hartenstine, lying on the ground, accepted the gift at the 2 and lunged over the goal. “I thought I had a touchdown,” he said. But an official ruled the ball down at the 2, from where Calvin Thomas scored untouched on the next play.

Next time Dent read that tackle’s “soft” intentions, Waechter beat him to the target, flushing Holly out of the pocket and into the end zone, where Henry and Richard flattened the quarterback for a safety credited to Henry.

Waechter said the Falcon who was supposed to block him was looking for a blitz that never came, so he got to Holly unopposed.

Archer was brave enough to return for the game’s last series, and Waechter bagged him on the last two plays. Thus this seldom-used reserve lineman, in his fourth pro season, raised his career sack total from 3 1/2 to 6 1/2 in one afternoon.

“I got lucky,” he said.

Fencik’s interception was his 35th, bringing him to within two of Richie Petitbon’s career record.

What amazes Fencik is the ease with which his team is winning:

“You look at that scoreboard, and we’ve got Walter Payton out of there in the third quarter and half the defense out of there in the fourth. You have to pinch yourself and say: `Is this for real?’ “