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1985 Bears Coverage: Bears 9-0 as running game tops Pack

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 9-0 as running game tops Pack

Sun-Times Staff

Originally published Nov. 4, 1985

GREEN BAY, Wis. — After the warmup acts were out of the way, Walter Payton brought down the house. He also brought down the Green Bay Packers, another rushing milestone and the notion that winning with the run is as obsolete as cannons with wooden wheels.

Payton wasn’t the star of the Bears’ 16-10 victory yesterday so much as he was the game itself. He turned the focal point from broken rules to the broken field. He ran for 192 yards – his best since 1977 and matching the third-best total in his career.

His performance was made for newsreels in an old-fashioned, bang-’em-up game perfect for natural grass and white-suited stretcher bearers.

“It was just nasty,” middle linebacker Mike Singletary said with a smile.

“The way football should be played,” Payton said, speaking of the plays that erupted between fights and late hits.

“I think everybody should have taken their face masks off and put on black high-tops,” defensive tackle Steve McMichael said.

“This was World War III without nuclear weapons,” coach Mike Ditka said. “It was fun to play. I’m sure it was more fun to win.”

The victory made the Bears 9-0, six games ahead of the Packers and four ahead of runners-up Minnesota and Detroit in the NFC Central. If they beat Detroit at home Sunday, they could clinch the division title in two weeks.

Payton had his fourth straight 100-yard game by halftime, but he didn’t become the game until early in the fourth quarter. That was when he changed a five-yard gain into a 27-yard touchdown run, turning Brian Noble from a tackler into a turnstile. He gave the Bears their 16-10 lead with 10:31 to play.

But first came the tag-team preliminary bouts of the first quarter, which had 97 penalty yards. Packer cornerback Mark Lee was kicked out four minutes into the game for forechecking Payton into the wall behind the Bear bench. The game had 15 penalties, plus 10 more that were declined or offset. Seven were personal fouls.

Also preceding Payton’s emergence was 308-pound William Perry, the apparent main attraction and Chicago’s own Galloping Roast, playing wide, wide, wide receiver on a four-yard touchdown pass.

“The story continues,” safety Gary Fencik said.

Perry added a touchdown catch to the saga that included a touchdown run and a sack in the last two weeks. On second-and-goal, Perry lined up at left wingback, ran in motion to the right, continued

past a defender bracing for his block, looked over his right shoulder and caught Jim McMahon’s pass without breaking stride. He gave the Bears a 7-3 lead 25 seconds before halftime.

Turns it around

Most important, Payton became the game after the Bears trailed in the fourth quarter for the first time this season. Packer fullback Jessie Clark had scored from 55 yards on Jim Zorn’s 10-yard pass late in the third quarter.

“That was by far our toughest game,” Ditka said. “I’m very happy to get the heck out of this town with a win.”

The first nudge toward victory was Phillip Epps’ innovative use of the fair catch on a punt to the Packer 4.

“He’s not supposed to, but he did,” coach Forrest Gregg said.

“It was just a high punt. No big thing,” Epps said.

“A real key play,” Fencik said.

Three plays later, McMichael sacked Zorn for a safety. Three plays after Dennis McKinnon returned the free kick to the Packer 49, McMahon called an audible that changed Payton’s play from the left side to the right. Payton broke Noble’s tackle and scored.

In the end, the Bears’ sixth comeback victory came down to Zorn’s four straight incomplete passes from the Bear 45 in the last 1:16.

Ditka had expected the Packers to take target practice on rookie cornerback Ken Taylor, who replaced injured Mike Richardson. But Packer wide receivers caught three passes and rarely had time to get open.

“We love that kind of pressure,” safety Dave Duerson said of the last moments.

Payton has been calling the Bears a great team all along. “Say the Bears were the star,” he said. “Bears with an `s’.”

Teammates disagreed.

“We had good blocking, but he got an awful lot of yards on his own,” tackle Jimbo Covert said.

Ditka wouldn’t call it Payton’s best game because he keeps getting better. “Incredible,” Ditka said. “Here’s a guy who had half a practice because of a calf injury.”

“I’ve been a Bear fan all my life,” Duerson said, “and I think he’s reaching his peak.”

“I hope he’s right,” Payton said.

Payton still was angry at himself for letting Noble knock the ball away on the second play. Ezra Johnson recovered at the Bear 29, setting up Al Del Greco’s 40-yard field goal.

Then the Packers really riled him. “People talking, that doesn’t intimidate me,” he said. “It just motivates me.”

14,000th yard

He passed the 14,000-yard career milestone at such a blur it was barely noticed. “My number’s 15,000,” he said. He can reach it this year with 121 yards a game, 17 1/2 below his average for the

last four.

Payton hasn’t had to take control of a game for safekeeping lately. This year, the Bears had been flinging their games out of reach by passing the ball downfield. “It’s nice to be able to go back to some old ways,” Fencik said.

It also was necessary. The Bears’ 58 passing yards were 101 fewer than their previous low. McMahon was 1-for-7 on first down, while Payton averaged 6.5 yards, making 15 of his 28 carries on first down.

The Packers sacked McMahon four times.

And Ditka said McMahon passed poorly because his feet were so seldom set, with all the green arms and gold legs underfoot. Wide receiver Dennis McKinnon said he also didn’t take some short passes

that were open.

“You can’t worry about that, though,” McKinnon said. “Jim’s been going downfield all along.”

All McMahon had to say was, “Nine-and-oh and away we go.”

On paper, the Packers were easy pickings for the passing game. Even before Lee’s ejection, both regular safeties were out with injuries. But the secondary turned out to be more vulnerable against

outside runs, which safeties must force inside.

“They didn’t have the personnel to block the `46′ defense,” fullback Matt Suhey said.

“If you got them strung out, you could cut back for a big play,” Payton said.

The Packers used their running game to set up their touchdown. Their previous four carries had gone 24 yards. Then they lined up in a formation from which Singletary said “they run 99.9 percent of the

time.”

The linebackers played the run and no one was close to Clark, who caught the ball in the center of the field and beat Fencik to the sideline.

“They only gave up one play,” Ditka said.

Versatile Perry

With a new use for Perry every week, Ditka keeps waving a feather under the chronically stern chin of the NFL, which seems to believe no humor is good humor.

“It does lend a little levity to the situation,” Fencik said. “But I think more important is the effectiveness of William on offense. He has to be taken seriously.”

He was. None of the Bears giggled as they lined up for the touchdown play, on which Perry was primary receiver. They waited until after he caught the ball – like a real receiver, without using his chest, except the wrong hand was on top.

“I couldn’t believe it,” center Jay Hilgenberg said. “The only thing I was upset about was he said he was going to do a 360 dunk over the goalpost.”

Maybe next week.