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1985 Bears Coverage: Everything falls into place in 38-28 win

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.

Everything falls into place in 38-28 win

Kevin Lamb

Originally published Sept. 9, 1985

If the Bears can make a comeback from 14 points down, can running boards and Big Band music be far behind?

Late in the Bears’ 38-28 victory over Tampa Bay yesterday, Gary Fencik said he asked Walter Payton if he could remember a Bear comeback like that. “He mentioned the Kansas City game in ’77,” Fencik said.

He was right. It has been eight years since the Bears last overcame a two-touchdown deficit, winning 28-27 after Kansas City led 17-0. Even modest come backs aren’t something Bear fans have grown to expect.

But then, neither are 274 passing yards, which Jim McMahon gained by completing 23-of-34 with two touchdowns. He never had completed that many passes.

The Bears are different now, McMahon said. “I think everybody realizes we can come back and score points.”

“We found out we can win when the defense doesn’t shut a team down,” said wide receiver Dennis McKinnon, who caught the first touchdown pass. “We don’t have to pray for them to hold everybody.”

Better still, the Bears found out they can play airball without putting Payton in mothballs. “We mixed it up real well,” said Payton, who gained 120 yards on 17 carries.

Ditka had said he wanted balance between runs and passes. The Bears had 34 runs and 34 passes, and Payton said the passes helped loosen the defense for his running.

The Buccaneers led 21-7 less than four minutes into the second quarter. It was 28-17 at halftime. But the offense and defense kept picking each other up, just as coach Mike Ditka keeps saying good teams do.

Decisive plays

The offense kept the game from becoming a rout when defenders were tripping over each other in the first half. Then the defense, offense and kicking teams each made a decisive play in the 21-0 second half.

Cornerback Leslie Frazier’s 29-yard interception return made the score 28-24 just 22 seconds after halftime. McMahon’s running, off-balance nine-yard pass and fullback Matt Suhey’s diving catch put
the Bears ahead in the last minute of the third quarter. Shaun Gayle’s blocked punt on the Bucs’ 13 set up the last score, McMahon’s second one-yard touchdown run.

“You look for one thing to trigger you,” Ditka said of Frazier’s interception. “It shocked me when I saw it. I said, `There it is. That was the one pump we needed.’”

It was the second play of the half. Frazier, covering wideout Gerald Carter, gathered from quarterback Steve DeBerg’s short retreat that he would throw quickly to the left sideline. Defensive end Richard Dent, on the same side, drew the same conclusion and drifted out to the path of the ball.

Dent jumped and tipped it. “I tried to hit the ball better,” he said. “But I’m glad I just got half of it.” Frazier caught it on the run and wasn’t touched on his 29-yard sideline romp.

“That was probably the key play,” McMahon said. “To not even step on the field and be seven points closer, that’s great.

“Those guys had a tough go of it in the first half. I don’t know what Buddy told them at halftime, but they played their butts off in the second half.”

There were two themes to defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan’s halftime address. One, said linebacker Otis Wilson, was, “`You can go out there and play or you can throw your skirt up.’ I don’t wear a
skirt.”

That was for show. “The main thing he told us,” defensive tackle Steve McMichael said, “was just settle down and read your keys.”

Key reads

It wasn’t a radical idea. But it was something the Bears hadn’t been doing when the Bucs strolled through last year’s No. 1 defense as though it were a tulip patch.

The Bucs used counter plays, rollouts and play-action passes, anything to get the defense running the wrong way.

“The same thing Frisco did to us,” McMichael said, recalling the 23-0 loss for the NFC championship last season, the Bears’ last game that counted. “Everybody starts panicking when it starts working on the first series. We had guys running around and not doing what they were supposed to do.”

Those misdirection plays are a good way to slow down an aggressive defense. As middle linebacker Mike Singletary said, “When you’re being really aggressive, you have a tendency not to play very smart.”

The Bears also had a tendency to tackle a tailback while a tight end was catching a touchdown pass. It happened twice for touchdowns.

Calvin Magee was wide-open for the one-yard pass that finished the Bucs’ 71-yard opening drive. Jerry Bell was wide-open for the Bucs’ third touchdown, 11 yards. Both times, DeBerg faked handoffs to James Wilder and then rolled out.

Wilder tough

“We had everybody overpursuing, then we’d look over our shoulder and the ball was going to the tight end,” Singletary said. Despite the attention, Wilder plowed through flailing tacklers for 105 of his 166 rushing yards in the first half.

Between the tight ends’ touchdowns, the Bucs scored on DeBerg’s 44-yard pass to Kevin House, who outsprinted cornerback Mike Richardson. Phil Freeman set up the play with a 58-yard kickoff return.

Bell’s touchdown followed another special teams blunder. A backspinning punt hit return man Ken Taylor from behind and the Bucs’ Ivory Sully recovered it.

Wilder’s three-yard run made it 28-17 with 1:09 left in the half. The 78-yard drive included the Bears’ third unnecessary roughness penalty and Richardson’s 13-yard pass interference penalty.

“I didn’t recognize the Bear defense,” safety Gary Fencik said.

“It had to be somebody else,” Frazier said.

“We were embarrassed,” Singletary said.

“But I’m glad it happened now. Now we’ll never want that to happen again. We’ll work a lot harder and be a lot smarter.”

In the second half, the Bucs made only one first down the first five times they had the ball. Dent had two sacks, drew a holding penalty and worried DeBerg into two penalties for leaving the center
without the ball.

“Sure, we got beat in the first half. That’s life. A good defense makes plays when it has to make them, and we did.”

The Bears still trailed 28-24 when they wasted field position from their own 40. That was when Dent’s sack and penalty backed the Bucs up from their 39 to their 16, setting up a 62-yard touchdown drive.

McMahon passed for 58 yards on the drive, completing 5-of-6. But the Bears were in trouble after a false start penalty backed them up to the Bucs’ 9-yard line, 3rd-and-6. Then McMahon was in trouble when he had to avoid pass rushers twice on the way to the right sideline.

Suhey persistent

McMahon’s first choice was wide receiver Ken Margerum, but he couldn’t find him. Suhey was straight ahead, down the sideline in the far corner of the end zone, but cornerback Jeremiah Castille was in the way.

“Matt just kept weaving back and forth and got open,” McMahon said. McMahon threw the ball side arm as he lunched away from a Buccaneer. Suhey dived across the sideline, but caught the ball with his feet in bounds. The Bears were ahead.

“Last year,” McKinnon said, “we were only behind 6-0 at halftime against San Francisco and we couldn’t come back. This was good. It shows our defense isn’t always going to have to win it for us.”